It doesn’t matter how old you are – earaches hurt. And unless your earache is the result of a bacterial infection, antibiotics won’t help get you better. Fortunately, there are several other earache remedies that can be incredibly effective.
But you don’t have to take a wait-and-see approach.
There are several earache treatment methods that can help to reduce your symptoms, including the pain and swelling you’re experiencing.
Home Remedies for Earaches
Does your little one have an earache that’s making them fussy? They might not sit still long enough for a warm compress to have an impact. Steam from a humidifier, shower, or bath can have the same effect as a warm compress. It helps to open and relax airways, thus reducing ear pressure and easing pain.
Ear discomfort from viral infections is often the result of fluid buildup in the middle ear. Draining this fluid can help to relieve pain. Rather than sleep lying down, try sleeping in an upright position, either propped up with a couple of pillows or in an armchair that’s reclined a bit.
Gargling with Salt Water
An earache is sometimes associated with a sore throat, and gargling with salt water can help ease your symptoms. Simply mix a 1 to 5 ratio of salt to warm water, then gargle, spit out, and repeat. If you have a sore throat, warm liquids like honey and lemon tea or a broth soup can provide some relief.
Many essential oils have antibacterial or antiviral properties which help to kill bacteria or prevent viruses from reproducing. Tea tree oil, oregano oil, basil oil, and garlic oil, in particular, are known to alleviate ear pain. Try mixing a couple of drops of essential oil with a few drops of olive oil and placing them directly inside the ear. You can also soak a cotton ball in essential oil and put it on the opening of the ear to let the essential oil seep in.
For centuries, moms have sworn by the curative power of onions. While there is no scientific evidence behind their effectiveness, onions do contain chemicals, like flavonoid quercetin, that have anti-inflammatory properties which can help with ear swelling. To help heal an earache, place a couple of drops of onion juice in the affected ear or half of an onion on top of the affected ear.
Hydrogen Peroxide Mixture
Spending time at the pool in the summer can help to cool you off, but too much time in the water can result in a swimmer’s ear. To get rid of water trapped in the ear, you can make hydrogen peroxide earache drops from a 1-to-1 ratio of peroxide to water and use a dropper to put the liquid into your ear. Combining equal parts vinegar and rubbing alcohol can have the same effect. Both combinations help provide earache relief by drying out the ear and getting rid of excess moisture.
If you’ve just been on a plane or scuba diving, you might experience ear pain from changes in air pressure. Chewing gum can help to “pop” your ears and help to reduce any pain or pressure you’re experiencing.
To alleviate pain, one of the most common home remedies for earache doctors often recommend is using a warm compress. This can help to loosen congestion, loosen fluid in the ear, and ease any ear discomfort.
Creating a warm compress is simple. Just soak a washcloth in warm water, wring out excess water, fold it, and place it on the affected ear for 10 to 15 minutes. But be careful, as an overly hot washcloth could cause a burn.
You can also create a warm compress from a heating pad or warmed gel pack. Wrap a towel around your heating pad, set it to a low setting, and place it on top of the sore ear.
To be safe, you can also use a towel with a warmed gel pack.
Earache Remedies for Kids
Earaches in kids are more common given their smaller eustachian tubes. There are some medications on the market specifically for earaches in kids. Drugstores sell pain-relieving eardrops that can help your child feel better if their earache is due to a cold or flu, swimmer’s ear, or allergies.
In addition, children’s formula acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used as earache remedies to help ease discomfort from inflammation in kids 6 months or older. Be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician before giving NSAIDs and avoid aspirin for children under 16.
Earache or Ear Infection
While both an earache and ear infection can cause pain in the ear, an infection does not always cause a general earache. An ear infection causes ear pain but is typically caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
If your earache is due to an ear infection, it often comes along with other symptoms such as fever, difficulty hearing, or a loss of balance. Fever along with ear pain is one of the biggest telltale signs of an ear infection.
Earache Causes and Prevention
Want to protect against ear infections in the first place? Your surest bet is to prevent the spread of germs that can lead to infection.
Make sure your child receives (in addition to all recommended vaccines) the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) since pneumococcal bacteria is the most common cause of an ear infection.
Also, breastfeeding for at least 6 months has been shown to boost the baby’s immune system, helping to prevent sickness.
More generally to prevent earaches, you should keep your home smoke-free and practice healthy everyday habits like handwashing.
These methods will not only protect against ear infections but a whole host of illnesses you and your family are much better without!
Who Most Likely Will Get Ear Infections
Both children and adults can develop ear infections, but it depends on the following situations.
Babies and Toddlers - Children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years are most likely to develop an ear infection. This is due to the small size and shape of their eustachian tubes and their developing immune systems.
Family History - If ear infections run in your family, you are more susceptible.
Allergies - Those with allergies have more inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, which can prevent ear fluid from draining.
History of Chronic Illness - Individuals who are immunocompromised or have asthma are more at risk, such as those with cystic fibrosis.
Ethnicity - Those of Native American and Hispanic origin experience more frequent ear infections.
Are Ear Infections Contagious?
Ear infections themselves are not contagious, but the colds and viruses that can cause them are. If you or someone you know has an ear infection, you should limit exposure to others until you feel better or the infection is cleared.
Other Health Risks Caused by Ear Infections
Recurrent ear infections can lead to other health problems over time if left untreated, such as:
- Mild Hearing Loss - This is common with an active ear infection, but typically resolves once the infection clears. If ear infections are frequent, fluid can build up to excessive levels in the ear, increasing the risk for more serious or permanent hearing loss.
- Speech or Developmental Delays - While not incredibly common, this can happen in infants and toddlers if their hearing is temporarily impaired. This is more likely to occur in the case of recurrent infections.
- Spread of Infection - Ear infections can spread to nearby tissues in the body if left untreated or if the body doesn’t respond well to treatment. This can lead to infection of the mastoid — the bony region behind the ear, and in rare cases, to the membranes in the brain.
- Tearing of the Eardrum - In most cases this is temporary, and tears generally heal within 72 hours. In isolated cases, surgical repair may be necessary.
When to Come into GoHealth Urgent Care
Most earaches will go away in a few days. But if it doesn’t get better, or symptoms worsen in 24 to 48 hours, it’s time to visit a GoHealth Urgent Care center.
Other reasons to seek medical advice include:
- Pus-like fluid or blood oozing from the ear
- A high fever (for children, a temperature over 100.4°)
- Headache and dizziness
- Swelling behind the ear (especially if you’re experiencing facial weakness)
- An object might be stuck in your ear and needs to be removed
- Severe ear pain that suddenly stops (which could be a sign of a ruptured eardrum)
If you get an ear infection or earache, consider visiting a GoHealth Urgent Care center. A healthcare provider can quickly identify and let you know the best course of treatment. You can walk in without an appointment, or you can check in online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant