Earache

Earache

Is this your symptom?

  • Pain or discomfort in or near the ear

Some Basics...

  • There are many causes of ear pain.
  • In adults, swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is more common than a middle ear infection (otitis media).
  • Ear pain and stuffiness can occur during air travel. This happens because of rapid changes in air pressure.

Causes

Pain can come from the ear itself. Causes of this type of ear pain include:

  • Ear pressure during travel: Nearly everybody experiences ear pressure or pain during air travel. It mostly happens on take-off and landing. The medical term for this is barotitis media.
  • Otitis media: This is a middle ear infection. It is more common in children than adults.
  • Otitis externa: This is also called swimmer's ear. It is an infection of the external ear canal. Swimmers and people who use Q-tips are more likely to get it.

Ear pain can also be caused by a disease outside of the ear. The ear shares nerves with other parts of the mouth and face. As a result, even though the ear is hurting, the problem can be from something else. Causes of this type of pain include:

  • Severe toothache
  • TMJ syndrome
  • Tonsillitis

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

When to Call for Earache

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Earache is severe
  • Pink or red swelling behind the ear
  • Stiff neck (cannot touch chin to chest)
  • Fever over 103° F (39.4° C)
  • Pointed object was put into the ear canal (such as a pencil, stick, or wire)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Earache lasts more than 1 hour
  • Bloody discharge or unexplained bleeding from ear canal
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a weak immune system (HIV, cancer chemo, long-term steroid use, splenectomy)
  • You think you may have an ear infection
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Earache lasts less than 1 hour
  • Earache happens only during air travel

Care Advice

Mild Earache

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Ear pain can be primary or referred. There are many causes of ear pain.
    • You can treat mild ear pain at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  3. Cold Pack: For pain, put a cold pack on the outer ear for 20 minutes. You can also use a wet washcloth. This will help with the pain as the drugs start to work. Some people like to use heat instead of cold for 20 minutes.
  4. Avoid Earplugs: If pus or cloudy fluid is draining from the ear, wipe it away. Avoid plugging your ear with cotton. Pus can cause infection or more ear pain in the ear canal.
  5. How It Is Spread: Ear infections are not contagious. They cannot be spread to other people.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Earache During Air Travel

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Ear pain and stuffiness can occur during air travel.
    • It happens because of rapid changes in air pressure. The change in pressure stretches the ear drum. This causes pain. The medical term for this is barotitis media.
    • There are many things you can do to help ear pressure and pain.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Treatment for Ear Pain - During Take Off:
    • Chew gum, or
    • Yawn, or
    • Swallow, or
    • Swallow while pinching nose.
  3. Treatment for Ear Pain - During Landing:
    • Take a small breath, pinch off your nose. Try to gently blow out and force air through your pinched-off nostrils.
    • You should feel a slight clicking or popping in your ears as air moves into the middle ear.
  4. Prevention: Using a nasal decongestant about 1 hour before take-off may help. These drugs shrink the swollen nasal passages. They open up the tube between the nose and ear. This helps bring ear pressure to normal. They can be taken as pills or as a nasal spray.
    • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed): Sold OTC in pill form. Normal adult dose is two 30 mg tablets every 6 hours.
    • Phenylephrine nasal drops (Neo-Synephrine): Sold OTC. Blow your nose to clean out the mucus before using. Spray each nostril once. Wait one minute and then spray a second time. Read all package instructions.
    • Do not take these drugs if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or an enlarged prostate.
    • Do not use these drugs for more than 3 days.
    • Read all package instructions.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pain does not go away
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 11/24/2017 1:30:10 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:03 PM

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