Earache

Earache and ear pain is common, particularly in young children. It can be painful, but is not usually a sign of anything serious.


How long earache lasts

It depends on what's causing it. Most earaches in children are caused by an ear infection, which usually start to improve after a few days.

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Symptoms in children

A young child might have earache if they:

  • rub or pull their ear
  • do not react to some sounds
  • have a temperature of 38C or above
  • are irritable or restless
  • are off their food
  • keep losing their balance

Earache and ear pain can affect 1 or both ears.

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Things you can try

There are some things you can do to help relieve earache and ear pain.

Do

  • use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 should not take aspirin)
  • place a warm or cold flannel on the ear

Don't

  • do not put anything inside your ear, such as cotton buds
  • do not try to remove earwax
  • do not let water get inside your ear

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How a pharmacist can help

A pharmacist might be able to tell you:

  • what you can do to treat earache yourself
  • if you can buy anything to help (for example, eardrops)
  • if you need to see a GP

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When to get medical help

See a GP if you or your child:

  • have earache for more than 3 days
  • keep getting earache

Get an urgent GP appointment if:

You or your child have earache and:

  • become generally unwell
  • a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
  • swelling around the ear
  • fluid coming from the ear
  • hearing loss or a change in hearing
  • something stuck in the ear
  • your child is under 2 and has earache in both ears

Call 111 for advice if you cannot get an urgent appointment.

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Causes

Earache and pain can be caused by many things, but sometimes it's not known by what.

Here are some of the most common causes:

Symptoms Possible condition
Ear pain with toothache Children teething, dental abscess
Ear pain with change in hearing Glue ear, earwax build-up, an object stuck in the ear (do not try to remove it yourself – see a GP), perforated eardrum (particularly after a loud noise or accident)
Ear pain with pain when swallowing Sore throat, tonsillitis, quinsy (a complication of tonsillitis)
Ear pain with a fever Ear infection, flu, cold

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