Earache: Causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention
Earache can be painful. The NHS says it is the most common reason for parents to call out-of-hours doctor services about their child.
Earache is more common in children than it is in adults. The pain from earache can be constant or it may come and go. It can feel like a burning sensation or a sharp, or dull, pain. It can affect both ears at once or just one ear.
Just as the pain from earache affects people in different ways, there are a variety of causes of earache. Some of them affect the ear itself, others are from conditions affecting areas close to the ears.
Common reasons for earache include:
Fluid building up deep inside the eardrum. Known as glue ear, this affects children more than adults
Infection of the ear canal outside the eardrum (otitis externa)
Poor feeding in babies; loss of appetite in children
Sleep problems and restlessness at night
Coughing and runny nose
Not hearing as well as normal
Seek urgent medical advice if your child develops a stiff neck, appears very tired, responds poorly or cannot be consoled.
What is the difference between the symptoms of a cold and an ear infection?
An earache from a cold can be a sharp, dull, or burning pain that can range from mild to very painful. Even if the trapped fluid in the ear is not infected, the fluid puts pressure on the eardrum, causing it to bulge and throb.
With an earache from a cold, you or your child may have difficulty sleeping, begin sneezing, and have green or yellow mucus in the nose. Because colds are self-limiting an earache with a cold usually goes away on its own. If you have an earache medical advice may be advised for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Some earaches from a cold virus may be followed with a secondary ear infection. These may come on suddenly and painfully.
How is an ear infection diagnosed?
When your doctor suspects an ear infection he or she will look in the ear using an instrument called an otoscope. A healthy eardrum is pinkish grey in colour and transparent. If an ear infection is present the eardrum may be inflamed, swollen or red. Further tests may be needed depending on what the doctor sees.
To provide even greater transparency and choice, we are working on a number of other cookie-related enhancements. More information