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An earache is a common problem with numerous potential causes. While most common in children, they may also affect adults. The pain caused by an earache can be dull or sharp, or it may create a burning sensation. Discomfort can occur in either ear or both ears simultaneously. In most cases, they do not cause permanent damage; in some cases, however, medical treatment is needed to treat to produce pain in the ear.

Earaches in Children

Many factors can cause earaches. In children, they are most commonly caused by an ear infection or swimmer's ear, a condition in which water becomes trapped in the ear canal. Ear infections occur when the tube that runs from the middle of the ear to the back of the throat becomes blocked. Normally fluid runs freely through this tube, but a blockage can cause it to build up. When this happens, the fluid buildup can result in a feeling of pressure behind the eardrum or an infection. When an infection is present, additional symptoms may develop. These symptoms include fever, irritability, and increased fussiness or crying in children. Other possible causes of earaches in children include irritation to the ear canal from the use of cotton-tipped swabs or shampoo or soap trapped in the ear canal after bathing.

Earaches in Adults

When adults experience an earache, infection is not always the most common cause. In many cases, pain that is centralized in another area is mistaken for pain in the ear. Pain in the throat, teeth, and jaw can cause referred pain that is felt in the ear. Other causes of ear pain in adults include jaw arthritis, ear injury caused by pressure changes, impacted ear wax, sinus infection, tooth infection, sore throat, or a perforated or ruptured eardrum. Though not as common, adults may develop acute or chronic ear infections that lead to earaches.

Diagnosing and Treating an Earache

Typically, a simple examination is sufficient in diagnosing the cause of an earache. In limited cases, however, an ear, nose, and throat specialist may be called in for additional testing. Many types of ear pain can be treated with medication such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs. When injury or damage to the inner ear is present, surgical procedures may be necessary. With treatment, most earaches do not cause long-term problems. When left untreated for extended periods, however, an earache can result in permanent damage to the ear or hearing loss.