Common Causes of Earaches

Earaches are one of the most common health issues seen by doctors and can affect young and old alike. Usually manifesting as anything from a dull ache to a sharp, unrelenting pain in one or both ears. Sudden hearing loss in one or both ears needs to be investigated immediately and you should visit your GP right away.  

If, for any reason, you find yourself with ear pain lasting longer than a couple of weeks, you should visit your GP for follow up.
It’s important to remember that earaches and ear pain are not always infection related. Sometimes the pain can be more closely associated with sickness or what is called “referred” pain. Referred pain is real, but it originates from a different location, i.e. a bad or infected tooth.

Here are some of the common causes of earaches and ear pain:
  • Ear infection (acute Otitis Media) - often seen in children but can affect adults as well.  When someone suffers ear infections chronically, there is often surgical intervention with the use of ear tubes or grommets. 
  • “Glue ear” - a condition where someone has a glue-like substance filling their middle ear.  It usually resolves itself within a few weeks. 
  • Impacted or built-up earwax
  • Throat, sinus infections and colds
  • A foreign object in the ear such as a cotton swab
  • Pain in the jaw from an impacted or infected tooth, or from teeth grinding
  • Cold weather sometimes causes ear pain for some people
  • Changes in altitude, such as when flying in an airplane, scuba diving, or when driving in mountainous areas
  • Water trapped in the ear or Swimmer’s ear (Otitis Externa)

Natural and at home remedies may help alleviate earaches and pain

The good news for people who are suffering from an earache is that there are several great home remedies that work to relieve discomfort and stop the annoying pain. Many of these have been used successfully for years and are recommended by clinicians (as well as mums) as a first line of defense in combatting earaches.
  1. Apply warm or cold compresses. Some people recommend alternating between the two every 10 or 15 minutes. Remember, with heating pads to never fall asleep while using and never let children use unsupervised. With cold or ice compresses always cover with cloth and never directly apply to skin.  Compresses work best when applied under the ear.
  2. To relieve ear pressure that’s causing pain, try chewing gum or sucking on a lolly. This reduces the pressure that is built up in the Eustachian tubes located between the middle ear and the back of the nose and throat. This is especially helpful when you encounter a change in altitude, such as when flying in an airplane or when driving in the mountains. In these cases, swallowing can also help.
  3. To soften ear wax, try olive oil, and place a small amount in your ear canal to soften the wax.
  4. Change your sleeping position by propping up your head and torso instead of lying flat on your back or on your side. This will often help in at least getting a better night’s sleep during the time it takes for the earache to resolve.
  5. There are always over the counter pain relievers, in particular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that will help with ear pain.

These treatments, used judiciously, will aid in reducing ear pain associated with earaches. If you are experiencing more serious symptoms, it is imperative that you seek advice from your GP or Hearing Care Professional.

More extensive issues may require medical management with drops or medications, antibiotic therapy, or a surgical intervention.

If you are unsure, it is always better to err on the side of caution and go see your GP. A progressively worsening hearing loss can be a sign that something is not right and needs quick follow up.  

For the more routine earaches and pains, these at home remedies could do the trick!