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What can cause and how to alleviate ear pain

Ear pain is a symptom that arises mainly after being in the cold for a long time or when water or objects are introduced into the ear canal, such as swabs and toothpicks, which can cause an ear infection or eardrum rupture. However, other causes include problems with the jaw or the growth of a tooth, for example.

If you experience ear pain and are an adult you should seek a otorhinolaryngologist. If a child or infant experience ear pain you should seek a pediatrician to start the most appropriate treatment.

What can cause and how to alleviate ear pain

1. Ear and throat pain

When ear pain is inked to a sore throat it is called otitis, which can spread to the throat, provoking fevers above 38ºC. The pain can be similar to a stabbing pain, there can be secretions or fluid accumulation associated with a bad smell when you speak, for example.

What to do

If the infection does not heal on its own, antibiotics may need to be started but only if recommended by your doctor. To relieve the symptoms, one can also take painkillers like acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, for example.

2. Ear pain while in a plane

The ear pain experienced while on a plane is associated to the difference in pressure that occurs mainly when the plane is lifting or landing. 

What to do

You can chew on gum or yawn in those moments. With babies you can give them water in a bottle to help alleviate the ear pain. 

3. Ear and jaw pain

When ear pain occurs at the same time as your jaw hurts, it may indicate problems in the jaw joint, such as arthritis or joint dislocation. The pain worsens when opening your mouth to yawn or chew, for example.

What to do

In these cases a warm patch may be placed near the ear and the jaw joint to relieve pain, but it is important to consult a otolaryngologist to start the appropriate treatment.

4. Ear pain while swallowing 

Ear pain when swallowing may be a symptom of throat infection, such as tonsillitis, which also causes pain in the ear because it is a nearby organ.

What to do

In these cases, it is recommended you see a doctor to start treatment with painkillers such as paracetamol or anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen. It may also be necessary to use antibiotics, such as Amoxicillin, for example.

Ear pain can also be caused by problems related to your teeth. This type of pain can appear due to the growth of teeth in baby's or wisdom teeth in adults or problems in a tooth, such as an abscess, caries or bruxism, for example. In these cases it is recommended you do see a dentist to diagnose the problem and start the appropriate treatment.

How to identify earache in a baby

To identify ear pain, especially in babies and children, one should be aware of the following signs:

  • Itching in the ear;
  • Irritability and easy crying;
  • Difficulty sleeping;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Difficulty hearing low sounds;
  • Loss of balance.

In cases of ear infection, other symptoms may also appear, such as fever above 38 ° C, fluid coming out of the ear canal or foul smell near the ear. In these cases it is recommended to consult a doctor to start the appropriate treatment, which may include the use of antibiotics. See more about baby's ear infections.

What to do in case of an earache

The treatment for ear pain should always be directed by a doctor, after diagnosis of the problem that is causing the pain, and may include the use of painkillers such as Paracetamol, anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen, or antibiotics such as Amoxicillin .

However, to relieve earache at home you can put a bag of warm water near your ear for 15 minutes and rest seated instead of lying down to reduce pressure in the ear. However, these home treatments should only be used to relieve pain until your appointment with a doctor and should never replace medical treatment. See also 5 tips to decrease ear pain.

When to go to a doctor

A doctor should be consulted when:

  • Ear pain lasts more than 3 days;
  • Ear pain worsens in the first 48 hours;
  • Other symptoms appear, such as fever above 38 ° C, dizziness, headache or swelling in the ear.

In these cases, it is recommended that an otolaryngologist be consulted so that he can evaluate the situation, finding the cause and if necessary recommend another health professional to start treatment.

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