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.
use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 should not take aspirin)
place a warm or cold flannel on the ear
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
Some painkillers are not safe for everyone (for example, if you're pregnant). Always check the leaflet or get medical advice before taking them.
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
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 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
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
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:
|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|
Page last reviewed: 29 April 2022
Next review due: 29 April 2025