Home Remedies for Ear Pain and Earache

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Mother dripping ear drops to son
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Most people have had at least one earache in their lifetime. Ear pain can range from a dull ache to severe acute pain. Earaches can make life quite miserable. Earache home remedies for adults and children range from pain-relieving ear drops to staying upright, but first you need to know the probable cause. 

As an adult, you can identify the problem in most cases. But young children may not be able to tell you what’s wrong. How do you know if your or your child’s ear pain is something serious or something you can try managing at home? The answer to this question depends on your or your child’s symptoms. It may also depend on if treatment at home brings relief or not.

Ear Pain Causes and Symptoms

If you don’t already have a diagnosis, it’s important to know that bacterial ear infections (including middle ear infection and swimmer’s ear) are a frequent cause of ear pain, particularly among children. But there are many other reasons you may be suffering, such as: 

  • A foreign body in the ear

  • Change in air pressure (from flying or diving)

  • Arthritis in the jaw

  • A hole in the eardrum

  • Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)

  • Sinus infections

  • Tooth infections

Treating ear pain depends on the cause. Infections may require prescription antibiotics. A foreign object needs to be removed by a doctor. Parents shouldn’t try to remove a small object due to the risk of pushing it further in. 
If any of the following symptoms occur, contact your doctor or visit an urgent care clinic for an evaluation and diagnosis: 

  • Pain appears to be worsening instead of improving. (A child will be increasingly fussy or crying.)

  • Pain returns after it went away (sign of perforated eardrum)

  • Hearing loss

  • Vertigo (feeling like your surroundings are spinning even though you are standing still)

  • Dizziness

  • Signs of infection (fever, discharge from the ear, nausea and vomiting)

  • Swelling behind the ear

  • Muscles on one side of the face feel weak

  • Bad taste in your mouth, possibly from a dental or sinus infection

Earache Home Remedies for Ear Pain in Children

A doctor should evaluate infants and very young children before you try home treatments to relieve what you think is ear pain. With infection, children can get quite sick very quickly. For children who don’t show signs of an infection (and you know there is nothing inside the ear that shouldn’t be), you can try these home remedies for earache relief: 

  • Ice packs (wrapped in a cloth or towel) or warm compresses, placed on the outer ear, can help relieve pain. Keep it in place for about 20 minutes and repeat every few hours throughout the day. Some people see relief with heat, others with ice. Some people alternate heat with cold.

  • Keep your child upright when not sleeping. Lying down can increase pressure in the ear, increasing the pain.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops may help ease the pain. It is very important that there be no signs of a perforated (broken) eardrum though. Signs of a perforation include discharge from the ear, sudden and sharp pain, and hearing loss.

  • OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Aspirin should never be given to children without a doctor’s approval, as it can contribute to a rare but often fatal condition called Reye’s syndrome.

  • A few drops of warm olive oil (if there is no sign of perforation)

  • Keeping your child hydrated with extra water or other fluids

If the ear pain is caused by air pressure while flying, encourage infants to nurse or drink from a bottle during takeoff and landing. Older children can drink water or chew gum.
If your child does have an ear infection, your doctor might not prescribe antibiotics right away. The latest guidelines encourage a wait-and-see approach in many cases. If your child does have an ear infection but you are waiting to see if it will resolve on its own, you can still use the home remedies to help relieve the pain and pressure in the ear.

Treating Earaches in Adults

Unlike children, ear pain in adults is not usually related to infections. (Children have shorter Eustachian tubes, which makes them vulnerable to infections. These tubes lengthen as you grow, making infections less common in the teen and adult years.) At-home treatment for adult ear pain is the same as for children. If the pain is caused by pressure while flying, adults and older children may try sucking on a candy.

If you are concerned about ear pain, contact your doctor or the on-call doctor or nurse if it’s after hours. If you have repeated bouts of ear pain, ask your doctor if additional tests are necessary to determine the underlying problem and possible treatment options.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Nov 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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