It doesn’t matter how old you are — earaches hurt. Unless your earache results from a bacterial infection, antibiotics won’t help get you better. If you or your child are suffering from an earache, you’re probably wondering how to stop an earache fast. Fortunately, there are earache treatments that you can do at home to help relieve the pain and make you more comfortable.
Effective earache treatments
If you visit your healthcare provider, you could be sent home with instructions to watch and wait before being prescribed treatment for an earache. In the meantime, you will need to know how to stop an earache from hurting because they can be quite painful. Here are a few tips:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen will help relieve the pain until you feel better.
- Be sure to get plenty of rest.
- Drink extra water and fluids.
- Decongestants and antihistamines may help stop your earache from hurting if allergies or an upper respiratory tract infection causes it.
Cough and cold medications have not been shown to speed recovery for ear infections in children and may have serious side effects. Giving medications to children is not recommended unless specifically instructed by your doctor.
What to do for a child’s earache?
Earaches in kids are more common, given their smaller eustachian tubes and developing immune systems. For treatment of an earache in children under 6 months old, give children’s formula acetaminophen. Children 6 months and older can have children’s formula acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician before giving NSAIDs, and avoid aspirin for children under 16.
Earache vs. ear infection
While an earache and ear infection can cause pain in the ear, an infection does not always cause a general earache. An ear infection causes ear pain but is typically caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
If your earache is due to an ear infection, it often comes with other symptoms such as fever, difficulty hearing or a loss of balance. Fever and ear pain are some of the most significant telltale signs of an ear infection.
Understanding the root cause of your ear pain is the first step to figuring out how to stop an earache from hurting. Your healthcare provider can then decide on the best earache treatment for you.
Earache causes and prevention
The best earache treatment is preventing the ear infection in the first place. Your surest bet is to prevent the spread of germs that can lead to infection. Make sure your child receives the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and the annual flu vaccine (in addition to all recommended vaccines). To prevent earaches, you should keep your home smoke-free and practice healthy everyday habits like hand washing. These methods will protect you and your family against ear infections and other illnesses.
Other health risks caused by ear infections
If left untreated, recurrent ear infections can lead to other health problems, such as:
- Mild hearing loss: This is common with an active ear infection but typically resolves once the infection clears. If ear infections are frequent, fluid can build up to excessive levels in the ear, increasing the risk for more serious or permanent hearing loss.
- Speech or developmental delays: While not uncommon, this can happen in infants and toddlers if their hearing is temporarily impaired. This is more likely to occur in the case of recurrent infections.
- Spread of infection: Ear infections can spread to nearby tissues in the body if left untreated or if the body doesn’t respond well to treatment. This can lead to infection of the mastoid, the bony region behind the ear, and, in rare cases, to the membranes in the brain.
- Tearing of the eardrum: In most cases, this is temporary, and tears generally heal within 72 hours. In isolated cases, surgical repair might be necessary.
Here are the answers to commonly asked questions about earaches:
Who will most likely get ear infections?
Children and adults can develop ear infections depending on the following situations.
Babies and toddlers: Children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years old are most likely to develop an ear infection.
Family history: If ear infections run in your family, you are more susceptible.
Allergies: Those with allergies have more inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, which can prevent ear fluid from draining.
History of chronic illness: Individuals who are immunocompromised or have asthma are more at risk, such as those with cystic fibrosis.
Ethnicity: Those of Native American and Hispanic origin experience more frequent ear infections.
Are ear infections contagious?
No. Ear infections are not contagious, but the colds and viruses that can cause them are contagious.
Will an ear infection go away on its own?
Yes. Most ear infections will go away on their own.
How long do earaches last?
It’s normal for earaches to last two to three days.
If your symptoms haven’t improved or have worsened, schedule an appointment with one of our urgent care partners to help you determine the best earache treatment.
Can an earache cause jaw pain?
Yes. The close proximity of your ears and jaw means that ear pain may radiate to your neck and jaw.
When to visit urgent care for an earache?
Most earaches will go away in a few days. But if it doesn’t get better or symptoms worsen in 24 to 48 hours, it’s time to visit one of our health system partners at a center near you.
Other reasons to seek medical advice include:
- Pus-like fluid or blood oozing from the ear
- A fever (for children, a temperature over 100.4° F)
- Headache and dizziness
- Swelling behind the ear (especially if you’re experiencing facial weakness)
- An object might be stuck in your ear and needs to be removed
- Severe ear pain that suddenly stops (which could be a sign of a ruptured eardrum)
- Worsening symptoms
If you get an ear infection or earache, consider visiting one of our health system partners. A healthcare provider can quickly identify and let you know the best treatment for your earache. You can walk in without an appointment or check-in online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant