Earache 101 – Causes, Remedies, and Prevention

Your day was going great until your earache started to bother you and make your life miserable. The last time you experienced ear pains, you were only a child because they often occur in kids. Should you wait for it to pass on its own? Should you make a doctor’s appointment? Should you go to the emergency room?

It all depends on your symptoms because earaches can happen in different parts of the ear and for many causes. Ear pain can affect one or both ears, but most times, you feel it in one ear, and the symptoms come and go. Sometimes it’s burning, sometimes it’s sharp, and other times it’s constant and dull. If you have an ear infection, you can also experience fever and hearing loss. But you don’t have to have an ear infection, for the symptoms can wreak havoc on your day. Let’s have a look at the most common causes of earaches and their remedies. 

Ear infection

Ear infections are the most common causes of ear pain, and they can occur in all parts of the ear. Using headphones or hearing aids can cause an outer ear infection. Swimming can also trigger this because it damages the skin inside the canal. Putting your fingers or cotton swabs in the ear canal often leads to ear infection symptoms. 

The skin in the ear canal is sensitive, and if you irritate or scratch it, it gets infected. When swimming, water softens the tissue and allows for bacteria to grow. 

A middle ear infection often accompanies a respiratory tract infection because it causes fluid build-up behind the eardrum. Bacteria always thrive in fluid environments. 

Bacterial or viral infections from respiratory health issues can cause labyrinthitis, an inner ear condition. 


Ears produce and get rid of wax all the time. But sometimes the process doesn’t work well, and the debris builds up and hardens in the canal, blocking it. When it happens, it causes pain, and you are tempted to use cotton swabs to clean the canal and get the way out. Sadly, with utensils like this, you only push it farther into the canal and make the ear itch, hurt, discharge gunk, and get infected. 

Air pressure

Your ears keep the pressure equal on both sides of your eardrum, and the pop you feel when you swallow is a confirmation the process is working. But quick changes like using an elevator or flying on an airplane can throw the balance off. You may feel ear pain and even experience hearing trouble when air pressure affects balance. 

Other common causes are eczema, impacted tooth, infected tooth, a foreign object, sinus infection, strep throat, water or shampoo trapped in the ear, the use of cotton swabs, temporomandibular joint syndrome, perforated eardrum, arthritis affecting the jaw, or chronic facial nerve pain. 

Can you treat the earache at home?

You can most often treat an infection of the ear canal at home with natural remedies and over-the-counter medication that relieves inflammation and pain. 

Prolonged and recurrent immersion in water can trigger outer ear infection, also called swimmer’s ear. The best way to relieve the symptoms associated with the condition is to avoid swimming until the pain and inflammation is gone. It may take some days to heal, but most times the pain goes in about a week. The warmer the water, the more likely you are to suffer from an ear infection. If you swim or surf during summertime, you are more predisposed to develop swimmer’s ears than people soaking in cold water. 

When a virus causes an ear infection, use pain management remedies to encourage your immune system to fight and cure it. Middle ear infection works similarly to a cold. If your symptoms last for more days, schedule a doctor’s appointment to prevent further damage.

As stated before, labyrinthitis or inner ear infection is quite rare in both adults and children. And because the symptoms require professional treatment, it’s best to see a doctor specialized in nose and ear problems. 

Home remedies for earaches

If your earache isn’t severe, you can treat it at home. The heat from an electric pad can reduce pain and inflammation. Apply a hot pad on your ear, neck, and throat for 20 minutes to get better results. Make sure the pad isn’t unbearably hot, and don’t fall asleep while using it. 

Sometimes cold packs can also help with ear pain. Use a cold pack or wrap ice in a light cloth and hold it on the inflamed area for 20 minutes. Don’t apply the ice directly on your skin, and use it only if it doesn’t hurt. You may prefer cold packs better than hot ones. Or you may find both relieving, and in this case, you can alternate them.      

Other remedies for ear pain promote massage, garlic, and onions. When the ear pain radiates in your jaw and teeth, massage can help to relieve the tension. Massage the tender area and the surrounding muscles. When the area around your ear hurts, massage also the neck and jaw. Use a downward motion, and start by applying pressure behind the ear and down the neck. Massage can also help drain the excess fluid from the ears and prevent bacteria growth and pain. 

Garlic is a natural remedy for various health conditions and has been used in folk medicine for a long time. Studies also suggest it has antimicrobial properties and treats infections. Don’t substitute your antibiotics with garlic when your doctor recommends a drug treatment. To prevent ear issues, eat a clove of garlic daily. If you cannot eat it rough, cook two or three cloves in two tablespoons of sesame oil or mustard and apply a drop of the mixture to the painful ear. 

Onions have similar properties to garlic and can lower pain and fight infection. Heat onion in the microwave for two minutes, strain the liquid and apply a few drops in the ear. Lay down for 15 minutes to allow the fluid set in the ear. 

Most earaches are preventable, so keep foreign objects away from your ears, dry them after you take a bath or swim, and avoid allergens that can trigger inflammation and pain. 

Written by Harlowe Sweeney