If you or a family member has earache, you may have pain that is sharp, dull, or throbbing. You may also have muffled hearing or a feeling of pressure or blockage.

Common causes of earache

  • An ear infection
  • A throat, nose or mouth infection
  • A build-up of ear wax
  • Changes in altitude or air pressure (eg, when an aeroplane lands)
  • An object, growth, or insect in the ear
  • A disease of the gland in front of the ear (eg, mumps).

See your doctor for earache

The ear canal is very delicate. It’s never a good idea to put anything in your ear that hasn’t been prescribed.

See your doctor if you or a family member – especially a child – has earache.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat the cause of the earache. Sometimes a medical procedure or surgery may be needed.

Get back to your doctor quickly if you have:

  • new discharge from your ear canal
  • dizziness, nausea, vomiting or vertigo
  • a severe headache, stiff neck or really bad pain in the ear.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you’re unsure what you should do.

Earache in children

Earaches are common in children.

If your child has an earache, they may:

  • tug or rub on the painful ear
  • have fever, dizziness, nausea or vomiting.


The usual cause of earache in children is middle ear infection (or otitis media). The infection often begins as a cold, sinus infection or throat infection. Bacteria enter the child’s nose or throat then travel up the tubes to their ear. The child begins to feel pain as their eardrum becomes swollen and red, and fluid builds up in the air space behind the eardrum.

Earache in adults

Adults also get ear infections, but not as commonly as children.

Middle ear infections in adults may cause earaches, hearing loss and a feeling of blockage in the ear.

Self care

As well as seeing your doctor, try the following.

  • A warm face cloth, wheat bag or covered hot water bottle held against your affected ear may help relieve the discomfort.
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain or fever. (Follow the directions given by your doctor or pharmacist.)
  • Lie with the affected ear away from your pillow, propped up on 1-2 pillows
  • If your ear is discharging, gently wash the outer ear with soap and a face cloth. See your doctor.
  • Don’t use eardrops unless your doctor tells you to.
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