Earache and ear pain affects both children and adults. It is particularly common in young children.
Earache usually comes on suddenly and the pain can be quite severe. The severe pain generally lasts only a day or two but isn't usually a sign of anything serious.
Most earaches are caused by a virus so antibiotics won’t help.
The main symptoms of earache are:
- severe pain (caused by the pressure of mucus on the eardrum)
- a high temperature
- slight deafness
About three-quarters of these ear infections happen in children under 10 years of age. If there is no fever or temperature, the earache may be caused by a wax blockage or glue ear. A sore throat can also cause an earache.
Sometimes the pressure can cause the eardrum to burst and fluid may come out of the ear. There is no cause for alarm if this happens. You should just keep the ear dry and make an appointment to see your GP.
Symptoms of earache in babies and young children
Most earaches in children are caused by viral infections which will clear up by themselves in 3 to 4 days. Usually, pain relief is the only treatment needed. Antibiotics will not reduce the pain of an ear infection.
A young child with earache might also:
- have a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or above
- rub or pull their ear
- not react to some sounds
- be irritable or restless
- be off their food
- keep losing their balance
Earache and ear pain can affect one or both ears.
There are some things you can do to help relieve an earache and ear pain.
You can take over-the-counter medicines to help with the pain and high temperature. Ask your pharmacist for advice.
Do not take antibiotics for an ear infection unless your GP prescribes them. Ear infections are generally caused by viruses and antibiotics cannot treat viruses.
After an ear infection, you may still have fluid behind your eardrum. This can last for several months. Your ear may feel uncomfortable but it will be a more of a dull, abnormal feeling than a sharp pain. This may also affect your hearing for a short while until the fluid is gone.
use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Children under 16 should not take aspirin
do not put anything inside the ear, such as cotton buds
do not try to remove earwax
When to see your GP
Usually, you do not need to see your GP for an earache.
Non-urgent advice: See your GP if:
- you have dizziness or a severe headache
- you have discharge or fluid from the ear
- your earache does not improve within 3 to 4 days
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE