Earache and ear pain is common, particularly in young children. It can be painful but isn't 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
  • don't 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 one 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 shouldn't take aspirin)
  • place a warm or cold flannel on the ear


  • put anything inside your ear, such as cotton buds
  • try to remove earwax
  • let water get inside your ear

A pharmacist can help with earaches

A pharmacist might be able to tell you:

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

See a GP if you or your child has:

  • a very high temperature or feels hot and shivery
  • swelling around the ear
  • earache in both ears
  • fluid coming from the ear
  • something stuck in the ear
  • an earache for more than 3 days
  • hearing loss or a change in hearing
  • a severe sore throat or vomiting

If you can't get an appointment, contact 111 or go to a local walk-in centre.

Find your nearest walk-in centre

What causes earache and pain

Earache and pain can be caused by many things, but sometimes it isn't known what. Here are some of the most common causes:

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 your 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: 08/09/2017
Next review due: 08/09/2020

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.