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Earache

Earache and ear pain is common, particularly in young children. It can be painful, but is not usually a sign of anything serious.

How long earache lasts

It depends on what's causing it. Most earaches in children are caused by an ear infection, which usually start to improve after a few days.

Spotting earache in babies and young children

A young child might have earache if they:

  • rub or pull their ear
  • do not react to some sounds
  • have a temperature of 38C or above
  • are irritable or restless
  • are off their food
  • keep losing their balance

Earache and ear pain can affect 1 or both ears.

How to treat earache yourself

There are some things you can do to help relieve earache and ear pain.

Do

  • use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 should not take aspirin)

  • place a warm or cold flannel on the ear

Don’t

  • do not put anything inside your ear, such as cotton buds

  • do not try to remove earwax

  • do not let water get inside your ear

A pharmacist can help with earaches

A pharmacist might be able to tell you:

  • what you can do to treat earache yourself
  • if you can buy anything to help (for example, eardrops)
  • if you need to see a GP

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if you or your child:

  • have earache for more than 3 days
  • keep getting earache
Information:

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during coronavirus

Urgent advice: Get an urgent GP appointment if:

You or your child have earache and:

  • become generally unwell
  • a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
  • swelling around the ear
  • fluid coming from the ear
  • hearing loss or a change in hearing
  • something stuck in the ear
  • your child is under 2 and has earache in both ears

Call 111 for advice if you cannot get an urgent appointment.

What causes earache and pain

Earache and pain can be caused by many things, but sometimes it's not known by what.

Here are some of the most common causes:

A table showing possible causes of earache symptoms.
Symptoms Possible condition
Ear pain with toothache Children teething, dental abscess
Ear pain with change in hearing Glue ear, earwax build-up, an object stuck in the ear (do not try to remove it yourself – see a GP), perforated eardrum (particularly after a loud noise or accident)
Ear pain with pain when swallowing Sore throat, tonsillitis, quinsy (a complication of tonsillitis)
Ear pain with a fever Ear infection, flu, cold

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Page last reviewed: 6 August 2019
Next review due: 6 August 2022