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Ear Pain/Ear Infections

Earaches are a common ailment most often occurring in children, although many adults experience ear pain, too. Pain may affect one ear or both—it may come in waves or remain constant. The type of pain experienced may also vary, ranging from dull aches to sharp, “stabbing” pains.

In many cases, earaches and ear pain occur as a result of having a cold or the flu. Other times, however, a bacterial infection may be responsible for causing symptoms. Here are a handful of factors that can cause ear pain, most of which require medical attention:

  • Viral infection (such as the common cold)

  • Changes in air pressure

  • Swimmer’s ear

  • Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ)

  • Wax buildup

  • Sinus infection

  • Strep throat

  • Tooth infection

  • Bacterial infection of the middle ear


Though some people are affected by chronic earaches, most ear pain is acute in nature and will resolve with the appropriate treatment.


What are the Symptoms of Earaches?

While earaches may seem self-explanatory, they often come along with a number of different symptoms, including the following:

  • Pain in or around the ear

  • Headache

  • Dulled hearing

  • Fever

  • Dizziness

  • Difficulty Sleeping

  • Redness or swelling

  • Itchiness

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Drainage


Symptoms of inner ear infection—dizziness, nausea and vomiting—may be signs of a more serious problem, such as meningitis. If you or a family member experience these or similar symptoms (especially with a fever), seek medical attention immediately.


When to Seek Medical Attention


Though earaches can occur at random and occasionally clear up on their own, they’re almost always a sign that something isn’t quite right. Ear pain may also lead to complications, some of which can be severe.


If you experience any of the following, it’s recommended you seek medical attention:

  • Fever over 102 F.

  • Pain in or around the ear.

  • Drooping facial features.

  • Bloody discharge.



Diagnosing & Treating Earaches and Ear Infections

During your visit, your provider will consider a number of different factors in diagnosing the source of your earache.

Treatment options for earaches and ear infections include:

  1. Antibiotics — Middle ear infections and infections thought to be bacterial are often treated with antibiotics. Oral antibiotics may be used, or medicated ear drops may be applied directly to the infection site depending upon the circumstances.

  2. Anti-inflammatory medications — Anti-inflammatory drugs may be used both for pain management and to bring down inflammation.

  3. Wax removal — If a buildup of earwax has occurred, your doctor may choose to use wax-softening drops or flush-out the area via a process known as “ear lavage.” Wax may also be removed via suction.


Pediatric Considerations

Ear pain is more commonly experienced by children than adults. In babies, it can be difficult to determine whether an ear infection is present or if the symptoms are a result of teething. Teething does not cause runny nose, fever or congestion, however. If these or other cold symptoms are accompanied by ear pain, an ear infection may be suspected and should be treated appropriately by a doctor.

If the child does not respond to pain medications such as ibuprofen, antibiotic therapy may be used as treatment (providing a bacterial infection is suspected).

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