How can you get rid of ear pain without going to the doctor?

how to get rid of ear pain
Medically reviewed by Richard Honaker M.D.

Overview

Having ear infections can be very annoying, mainly if they occur frequently. They might cause pain and other bothersome symptoms, which can throw off your schedule. They can occur at any age; children under two will most likely experience them. Indeed, half of the children are predicted to get at least one ear infection before they become two years old. Ear pain can often be eased at home with simple remedies. Read along as we discuss whether you can treat an ear infection at home, your options for relief of OTC ear infection, How to reach out to a doctor online for ear infection, and when to see a healthcare provider.

Why does my ear hurt on the inside?

“This discomfort can have various origins, and its important to know the main cause in order to seek appropriate treatment.”

Dr. Kurt Schlemmer, Consultant – Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

There are several causes of ear pain. Otalgia, the medical term for ear pain, can directly result from an ear-related condition or a problem occurring in another area of your body. This latter type of pain is transferred pain. 

Determining the reason for your ear pain is crucial to prescribing the proper medication, as it may indicate an infection or other underlying problem that must be attended to. The sooner you receive treatment, the faster the dull, painful, or burning feeling in one or both of your ears will disappear. 

Here’s a detailed explanation of each possible cause of unbearable ear pain

Ear infections

Outer ear (otitis externa)

This kind of infection, sometimes called a swimmer’s ear, develops in the ear canal. It is frequently brought on by water left in the ear after swimming, which makes a moist environment that encourages the growth of germs. The symptoms include ear pain, itching, redness, and occasional discharge.

Middle ear (otitis media)

This is a common ear infection, especially in children. It occurs behind the eardrum and is often caused by bacteria or viruses. Symptoms include ear pain, fever, hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness in the ear.

Inner ear (labyrinthitis)

A viral illness frequently brings on this inner ear infection. It can result in ear pain, nausea, hearing loss, and extreme vertigo.

Earwax buildup (cerumen impaction)

The ear produces earwax to shield it from germs, dust, and other foreign objects. Earwax accumulation and obstruction can occasionally result in pain, fullness in the ear, and transient hearing loss.

Injuries to the ear canal or eardrum

Injuries such as scratches, cuts, or punctures to the ear canal or eardrum can cause ear pain. These injuries can occur due to inserting objects into the ear, trauma to the ear, or sudden changes in air pressure.

Changes in air pressure

Abrupt fluctuations in air pressure, such as those experienced when flying, scuba diving, or driving in the mountains, can cause ear pain. Because of the unequal pressure gradient between the middle ear and the outside world, this results in pain or discomfort.

Sinus infections (sinusitis)

Sinus infections can cause inflammation and congestion in the sinuses, which are located near the ears. This congestion can lead to a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears and ear pain.

Jaw joint disorders (temporomandibular joint disorders – TMJ)

Pain in the jaw joint, which is situated close to the ear, can be brought on by TMJ disorders. Because the two locations are closely related, this pain can occasionally be mistaken for ear pain.

Referred pain

Sometimes, pain from other areas of the head and neck can be referred to the ear, leading to ear pain. This can occur with conditions such as dental problems, throat infections, or tumors in the head or neck region.

Common cold

Earache is a frequent side effect of the cold. This is due to the possibility that a cold could damage the Eustachian tube. The middle ear, situated behind the eardrum, is connected to the back of the nose by the tiny Eustachian tube. Its functions include middle ear protection, ventilation, and drainage. Eustachian tube dysfunction is the term used to describe conditions that hinder the Eustachian tube from functioning normally.

The most common reason for eustachian tube dysfunction is inflammation of the tube lining, which can result from a cold.

In addition to causing ear pain, a cold’s Eustachian tube malfunction can make your ears feel swollen. Additionally, you can experience popping sounds or possibly lose some hearing. Tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears, is another possible symptom.

Allergies

Some people experience sinus irritation from allergens such as dust mites or pollen, leading to runny or stuffy noses and sneezing. Sometimes, the Eustachian tube gets irritated due to sinus irritation and fluid accumulation. 

Ear pressure and pain can occur when the Eustachian tube swells due to allergies.

Many cases of accumulation may be handled at home using techniques supported by experts to help soften and remove the wax; however, if you’re in pain or finding it difficult to remove, it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional.

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How to get rid of ear pain?

Earache pain relief medications and antibiotics for ear infections are crucial to treating earaches. However, accessing in-person evaluations can sometimes pose challenges. Thankfully, with technological advancements, telemedicine offers a viable solution for remotely addressing otalgia and ear infections. Home remedies can also provide relief, such as supplementing medical treatment. Some effective home remedies include applying warm compresses to the ear, using over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and utilizing eardrops to alleviate discomfort. Also, maintaining proper ear hygiene and avoiding irritant exposure can help prevent ear infections.

Managing pain

Earache relief depends on the underlying cause. Here are some general strategies that may help alleviate ear pain:

Anesthetic drops

Anesthetic ear drops, such as benzocaine or lidocaine, can help numb the ear and alleviate pain. These drops are available over-the-counter and can provide temporary relief from ear pain. However, it’s essential to use them according to the instructions on the packaging and avoid prolonged or excessive use.

Pain medication (over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers)

Non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can help reduce ear pain and inflammation. These medications are available without a prescription but should be used according to the dosage instructions.

Prescription pain medication 

More potent painkillers, including prescription-strength NSAIDs or opioids, may be prescribed by a medical expert in cases of acute ear discomfort. These drugs may have unwanted effects and develop into habits. Therefore, you should only take them as prescribed by a doctor.

Antibiotics

For children

Ear infections in children are mostly treated with antibiotics, especially if the infection is bacterial. Commonly prescribed antibiotics for children include amoxicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanate (Augmentin), or cefdinir. Completing the duration of the course is very important for the effective and complete resolution of ear infections. 

For adults

Adult bacterial ear infection relief comes with antibiotics. Adults are frequently prescribed amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, or levofloxacin as antibiotics. The kind and severity of the infection determine which antibiotic is best.

Drainage

In some cases of severe ear infection or fluid buildup behind the eardrum, a healthcare provider may need to drain the fluid to relieve pressure and alleviate pain. This procedure is usually done in a healthcare setting using a small tube (tympanostomy tube) to allow for drainage.

Decongestants

Decongestants can help reduce congestion and swelling in the nasal passages, alleviating ear pain associated with sinus infections or allergies. Over-the-counter decongestants include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or phenylephrine (Sudafed PE). These medications should be used according to the instructions on the packaging.

Prescription decongestants may also be available for more severe congestion.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines can help reduce allergy symptoms, such as nasal congestion and sneezing, which can indirectly relieve ear pain. OTC antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine, or diphenhydramine (Benadryl). These medications should be used according to the instructions on the packaging.

Prescription antihistamines may be available for more severe allergies or symptoms.

Home remedies for ear infection

What helps with ear pain at home? Depending on the cause, home remedies for ear pain can work. If you have an earache, you can try the following:

Warm compress

Applying a warm compress might lessen pain and discomfort in the afflicted ear. To prevent skin burns, make sure the compress is not overly heated. When faced with ear pain in kids, parents often seek out effective home remedies to provide comfort and relief. Warm compresses have been helpful in kids too.

Over-the-counter pain relievers

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen, two over-the-counter pain medications, can help lessen ear pain and inflammation. 

Ear drops

Ear drops available without a prescription, like those with olive oil or hydrogen peroxide, can ease pain and soften ear wax. If you need clarification, refer to the directions on the container or speak with a healthcare provider.

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Garlic oil

Natural antimicrobial qualities are present in garlic. One clove of garlic should be crushed and combined with olive oil. Pour a few drops of the mixture into each ear after straining it. Garlic oil may aid in the prevention of infection and pain relief.

Onion poultice

Onions have natural antimicrobial properties. Heat a small piece of onion and wrap it in a clean cloth. Place the poultice against the ear for a few minutes to help reduce pain and inflammation.

Warm olive oil

Warm some olive oil and place a few drops into the affected ear. This can help soften ear wax and alleviate pain.

Steam inhalation

Inhaling steam from a hot water bowl can help relieve congestion and open up the Eustachian tubes, which can be helpful for ear infections caused by colds or sinus infections.

What are the treatments for chronic suppurative otitis media?

A persistent middle ear infection with a ruptured tympanic membrane (eardrum) that continues to generate pus or discharge is known as chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM). The goals of CSOM treatment are to lessen discharge, manage infection, and enhance hearing. The following are a few typical therapies:

Antibiotics

To treat the infection and avoid complications, doctors frequently prescribe oral antibiotics or antibiotic ear drops. The kind and severity of the infection determine which antibiotic is best.

Cleaning the ear

Regular ear cleaning by a healthcare professional can help remove discharge and debris, allowing for better penetration of medications.

Tympanoplasty

In cases where the eardrum does not heal, or there is significant hearing loss, a surgical procedure called tympanoplasty may be recommended. Tympanoplasty involves repairing the perforated eardrum and restoring hearing.

Mastoidectomy

In severe cases of CSOM with complications such as cholesteatoma (a skin growth in the middle ear), a mastoidectomy may be necessary. This surgical procedure removes infected tissue from the mastoid bone behind the ear.

Hearing aids

It might be suggested that people with severe hearing loss from CSOM have hearing aids to enhance their hearing.

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When should I see a doctor?

If you’re experiencing severe ear pain, drainage of pus, blood, or clear fluid from the ear, sudden or severe hearing loss, dizziness, loss of balance, swelling around the ear, fever, or symptoms that persist or worsen at home, it warrants a virtual or in-person visit to the doctor to seek medical attention promptly. These symptoms could indicate underlying conditions, such as infections, injuries, or other ear issues. Additionally, a history of recurrent ear infections or ongoing ear problems warrants professional evaluation to prevent potential complications and ensure appropriate treatment. 

FAQs about ear pain treatment

What happens if your ear infection won’t go away with antibiotics?

If antibiotics fail to resolve an ear infection, it could be due to bacterial resistance, fungal or viral causes, or underlying factors like anatomical issues or immune system problems. Seeking further evaluation from a healthcare provider is essential to determine the cause and explore alternative treatments such as different medications, specialist referrals, or tailored therapies.

Do allergy medicines help ear infections?

Yes, allergy medications can be part of the remedy for earache and infections of the ear. Allergy medicines primarily target symptoms associated with allergic reactions, such as sneezing, itching, and nasal congestion. While they may alleviate some symptoms related to ear infections, such as congestion and sinus pressure, they do not directly treat the disease itself. However, in cases where allergies contribute to ear infections by causing congestion or inflammation in the nasal passages and Eustachian tubes, allergy medicines might indirectly help by reducing congestion and promoting drainage, potentially relieving discomfort associated with the infection.

Does hydrogen peroxide help ear infections?

Hydrogen peroxide can aid in removing earwax buildup, but it should be used cautiously under medical guidance to prevent potential irritation or damage to the ear canal. However, it is not recommended for treating ear infections. Ear infections require proper medical evaluation and treatment, often involving antibiotics or other medications by telemedicine doctors or in-person assessment. 

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Cheng, Kang. “Prevention or Treatment of Hunan Ear Pain, Itch or Vertigo (Dizziness) Caused by Cerumen (Earwax) Impaction and Ear Hairs.” Open Science Journal of Clinical Medicine 7.2 (2019): 48-51.
  • Büyükcam, Ayşe, et al. “Pediatricians′ attitudes in management of acute otitis media and ear pain in Turkey.” International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology 107 (2018): 14-20.
  • Shaikh, Nader, et al. “How do parents of preverbal children with acute otitis media determine how much ear pain their child is having?.” The Journal of Pain 11.12 (2010): 1291-1294.
  • McWilliams, Deborah B., et al. “A program of anticipatory guidance for the prevention of emergency department visits for ear pain.” Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine 162.2 (2008): 151-156.

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