Your HealthEarache is a common problem, particularly in children. It can be worrying, but it's usually only caused by a minor infection and will often get better in a few days without treatment.

Earache can be a sharp, dull or burning ear pain that comes and goes or is constant. One or both ears may be affected.

When to contact your GP

It's not always necessary to see your GP if you or your child have earache. The pain will often improve in a few days and there are things you can do to help in the meantime.

You should contact your GP or local out-of-hours service if:

  • you or your child also have other symptoms, such as a high temperature (fever), vomiting, a severe sore throat, swelling around the ear, or discharge from the ear
  • there is something stuck in your or your child's ear
  • the earache doesn't improve within a few days

What you can do at home

  • You can use over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat the pain. Children under the age of 16 should not take aspirin.
  • Placing a warm flannel against the affected ear may also help relieve the pain.
  • Your pharmacist may be able to recommend over-the-counter eardrops for your earache, but let them know your symptoms and ask for their advice first.
  • Eardrops or olive oil drops should not be used if the eardrum has burst, and they will not help an ear infection.
  • If you or your child has an ear infection, you should avoid getting the affected ear wet.

Common causes of earache

The information below should not be used to self-diagnose your condition, but it may give you an idea as to what might be causing your earache.

It does not include every possible cause, but outlines some of the most common reasons for earache.

Ear infections

Glue ear

Damage to the ear

Earwax or an object in the ear

If there is an object in the ear, your GP may need to refer you or your child to a specialist to have it removed.

Throat infections

A problem with your jaw

A dental abscess