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A Simple Guide to Earaches

Have you been suffering from pain in your ears? You probably have an earache. Common in children, earaches can still happen into adulthood. But what are the symptoms of earaches and what might cause them? We explore this, and how you might be able to treat your earache.

Where does earache strike?

Earache usually occurs in only one ear, but can impact both at the same time. If you notice a dull and constant pain, a sharp pain, a pain that ebbs and flows, or a sense of burning in your ear, these all add up to an earache.

Other symptoms of an earache

The main symptom of an earache is, of course, pain in your ear. You may also notice that your hearing is fuzzy, muffled or unclear, and that you have some fluid coming from your ear. Children also often suffer from a fever, headache, and a feeling that the ear is full and uncomfortable. A child with earache can lose some balance and not be as hungry as usual. Parents should look out for behavioural changes such as irritability in young children, as well.

Infections and earache

Earaches are commonly caused by an injury to the ear or an infection somewhere in the ear. Infections in your outer ear can result from swimming and getting water stuck in the ear, hearing aid use, earphone use, and putting objects like cotton buds in your ears.

If you have a middle ear infection, this can be caused by chest or throat infections resulting in fluid behind your eardrums beginning to build up.

While inner ear disorders are less common, they can be caused by viral infections and bacterial infections

Other causes of earache

You may also suffer from an earache if you have toothache, which is known as referred pain (when pain is felt in a different place than it originates). Earaches often occur during pressure shifts when flying or otherwise shifting to a higher altitude, or if you have an excessive amount of earwax.

In rarer cases, you may be suffering from a perforated eardrum or an infected or impacted tooth. Those with skin conditions sometimes find that the skin within their ears can be irritated or become inflamed (such as with eczema ). If you have previously been diagnosed with arthritis, this can cause your jaw to ache, causing referred pain in your ear, and those with facial nerve pain often find that their ears are impacted by this.

Healing an earache

In many cases, an earache can be taken care of at home. You should avoid getting water in your ear or on the outer ear if it is inflamed, but you can put a cold compress against it to bring down the existing inflammation.

Sitting upright will generally ease the pressure in your ears, and some people find that chewing gum can also help. For young children, feeding them can have the same effect. You should be able to use over the counter pain relief and ear drops in most cases to ease the symptoms of earache.

GP treatments

You will sometimes need prescription medication for earaches, such as antibiotics and ear drops to clear up infections. However, if your earache is caused by excess wax, you might be given drops to soften this, and then your earwax may be removed with suction.

Should you see your GP?

Make sure to see your GP or a hearing specialist immediately if your child has an ongoing fever that reaches 40 ºC or more (38ºC or more for a baby). If you are suffering from earache yourself, your pain abruptly stopping could also be a red flag, as it can signal that your eardrum has ruptured.

If your pain becomes much worse, is accompanied by a severe headache or you are dizzy, you should book in with your doctor. It is also important to have your ear checked if it is swollen, bleeding or leaking pus, or if the muscles in your face are being impacted.

Even if the earache is not accompanied by these symptoms, you should get it checked out if it hasn’t eased in a couple of days.

Avoiding earaches

Not all earaches are easy to prevent, but you can reduce your chances of suffering from an earache by not putting your fingers or cotton wool buds in your ears, and drying your ears thoroughly after getting them wet. You should also steer clear of smoking or being around secondhand smoke, and reduce your exposure to known allergens. While you might still find yourself with an earache from time to time, these steps can keep your ears healthier overall.

If you or your child has an earache that is recurring or does not go away within forty-eight hours, get in touch with your GP as soon as you can for a thorough examination so you can get back to normal again.