An earache can be a sharp, dull, or burning pain in one or both ears. The pain may be temporary or constant.
Otalgia; Pain - ear; Ear pain
The symptoms of an ear infection may include:
Many children will have temporary and minor hearing loss during or right after an ear infection. Permanent hearing loss is rare, but the risk increases with the number of infections.
The eustachian tube runs from the middle part of each ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid that is normally made in the middle ear. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid can build up. This may lead to pressure behind the eardrum or an ear infection.
Ear pain in adults is less likely to be from an ear infection. What you think is ear pain may actually be coming from another location, such as your temporomandibular joint, teeth, throat, or other location. This is called "referred" pain.
Causes of ear pain may include:
Ear pain in a child or infant may be due to infection, or the following causes:
The following steps may help an earache:
You can relieve ear pain caused by rapidly descending from high altitudes by swallowing or chewing gum. Allowing infants to suck on a bottle or breastfeed while the plane is descending can help.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor if:
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The doctor will do a physical examination, and examine the ear, nose, and throat areas.
Pain, tenderness, or redness of the mastoid bone behind the ear on the skull is often a sign of a serious infection.
The following steps can help prevent earaches:
Ely JW, Hansen MR, Clark EC. Diagnosis of ear pain. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(5):621-628.
American Academy of Pediatrics Subcommittee on Management of Acute Otitis Media. Diagnosis and management of acute otitis media. Pediatrics. 2004;113(5):1451-1465.
Coker TR, Chan LS, Newberry SJ, Limbos MA, Suttorp MJ, Shekelle PG, et al. Diagnosis, microbial epidemiology, and antibiotic treatment of acute otitis mediain children: a systematic review. JAMA. 2010 Nov 17;304(19):2161-9.
Review Date: 5/16/2012
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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