What to Do When Your Ear Aches

For children ages 6 to 24 months, ear infections are almost a rite of passage. And they can be a real pain for little ones and their parents. While less common, ear infections can also affect older children and adults. 

The good news is infections and other issues that cause ear pain are fairly easy to diagnose and treat. Our team of medical providers is here to pinpoint the problem and provide a care plan to ease the pain.

Signs and symptoms

The most common culprit of ear pain is an infection of the middle ear, the space behind the eardrum. Congestion from a cold or other condition that affect the sinuses can block the internal canal that drains fluid from the middle ear. When the middle ear fills with fluid, bacteria can grow there. That’s when things start to hurt.

Pain from an ear infection can range from mild to severe and may be intermittent or nonstop. Other symptoms may include:

•    Fluid leaking from one or both ears
•    Dizziness
•    Poor balance
•    Hearing loss

In infants and toddlers who can’t verbalize their discomfort, signs of infection might include tugging or pulling at the ears, difficulty sleeping or inconsolable crying. 

If your child is under 6 months and shows signs of an ear infection, seek medical care right away.

Pain or discomfort in your ears doesn’t always mean an infection is brewing. Wax buildup can cause earaches, ringing in the ears, temporary hearing loss and ear sensitivity. Ear pain can also be caused by water or shampoo trapped in the ear, eczema in the ear, an infected tooth or a perforated ear drum. Wax buildup can cause earaches, ringing in the ears, temporary hearing loss and sensitivity

Sometimes, an aching ear could be the sign of something more serious. If you or your little one has any of these symptoms along with an earache, it’s probably best to visit your nearest emergency department:

•    Swelling or a knot has formed behind or under the ear
•    Difficult moving parts of your face in the usual way
•    Weakness or lethargy
•    Sudden high fever
•    Prolonged dizziness, loss of balance, extreme headaches
•    Seizures

Treatment options

Most ear infections aren’t serious and resolve themselves within a day or two. Home treatments may do the trick. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Ibuprofen, may help reduce pain and swelling. Be sure to follow directions closely and call your doctor if you have questions or concerns. A warm compress or heating pad on the ear may also bring some pain relief.

Most important, take time to get better. That means staying at home and getting plenty of rest. Pushing through just means a longer recovery time.

Urgent care can help

If the pain is persistent, or gets worse, we’re here to help, 8 am to 8 pm, seven days a week, including holidays. 

Your medical provider will use an otoscope to examine the ear, make a diagnosis and determine treatment options. An ear infection may require oral antibiotics, eardrops or both. If you do receive antibiotics, make sure you finish your prescription, even if you or your little one feels better. That will help guarantee the infection clears up completely.

If ear pain is caused by wax buildup, your provider may prescribe wax-softening eardrops or irrigate the ear to flush out the wax.

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