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Causes of earaches results in pain in one or both ears. Earaches are common in children, but they may occur in adults as well. Most earaches in children are caused by ear infections, which can improve after a few days and will normally go away naturally. By the age of 3, about 80-90% of children have had ear infections. There are many reasons for earaches that are not necessarily related to the ear but, if the pain is caused because of the ear, it may be due to a blockage of the Eustachian tube.

Symptoms of Earaches

  • Ear pain
  • Fever
  • Difficulty in responding to sounds
  • Headache
  • Pulling sensation in the ear
  • Sense of fullness in the ear
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Children become irritable and cry
  • Loss of appetite and balance

Causes of Earaches

  • The eustachian tube, the passageway between the middle ear and the back of the throat, gets blocked. Behind the eardrum, a small air-filled cavity called the middle ear is present. Usually, air enters the middle ear through the eustachian tube, equalizing the pressure between the outer and middle ear. The eustachian tube also drains fluid out of the middle ear. When this tube gets blocked, the air and fluid cannot pass freely and this increased pressure causes of earaches.
  • Ear infections in children are a common form of earaches. Otitis Media is a kind of infection that occurs when fluid fills up the tubes of the middle ear. This fluid then gets infected with a bacteria or virus and causes of earaches. Children are more likely to get earaches because their eustachian tubes are small and straight, making it difficult for the fluid to drain out. Their immune system is also not fully developed, which makes them more vulnerable to catching an infection.
  • Swimmer’s ear, or Otitis Externa, is a kind of ear infection caused by unclean water. This water gets stuck in the outer ear canal after swimming, thus creating an ideal environment for a bacterial infection.
  • Other possible causes of earaches may be allergies, sinus infection, the buildup of ear wax, ruptured eardrums, or if there is a change in altitude (Barotrauma).
  • Temporomandibular joint syndrome (problems in the joint that connects the jaw with the head) can also cause earaches, though this condition is the rarest.

Diagnosis of an Earache

The doctors’ diagnoses of an earache will be based on symptoms and medical history. The doctor might examine the ears, nose, and throat with an otoscope to check for redness. The otoscope blows a puff of air against the eardrum to check its movement.  The diagnosis of an earache often goes away in a few days, as the ear infection clears up on its own in a week or two. In the case of the eardrum getting ruptured, it heals itself within a few months.

earache in babies

Treatment For An Earache

The treatment for an earache often depends on what is causing earaches. Sometimes treatment for an earache may include surgery and medication. Usually, home remedies work well with earaches.

To relieve earaches, the doctor may prescribe over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. A warm or cold compress on the ear helps relieve an earache too. If you are on an airplane or are at higher altitudes, then you might experience an earache because of a change in air pressure. Chewing gum can help lower that pressure and ease the pain.

Sleeping upright or resting upright can encourage the fluid in the ear to drain out, easing the pressure in the ear. Use a stack of pillows on the bed or an armchair to sit/sleep upright.


  1. If you have an earache, when should you call the doctor? If you notice fluid (such as pus or blood) oozing out of your ear or have a high fever, headache, and are dizzy, immediately call your doctor. Also, if you notice numbing behind the ears and are unable to move your face muscles, you should do so. If any symptoms do not get better and worsen within 24-48 hours, that requires attention too.
  2. What can be done to prevent ear infections in infants? Breastfeeding babies as long as possible strengthens the immune system and develops the facial anatomy of the child, which prevents the development of an ear infection. Also, vaccinating your child against pneumococcal disease and influenza decreases the chance of an ear infection.

Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!

Ask Doctor Carol

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