What is earache?

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Earache: Overview

Even though infection is a common cause of ear pain, not all ear pain means an infection.

If you have ear pain and don't have an infection, it could be because of a jaw problem, such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. Or it could be because of a neck problem.

When ear discomfort or pain is mild or comes and goes without other symptoms, home treatment may be all you need.

How can you care for an earache?

  • Apply heat on the ear to ease pain. To apply heat, put a warm water bottle, a heating pad set on low, or a warm cloth on your ear. Do not go to sleep with a heating pad on your skin.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Never insert anything, such as a cotton swab or a bobby pin, into the ear.

Earache: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You have new or worse pain near your ear, such as in your jaw or neck.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse discharge coming from the ear.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.