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Earache

Definition

An earache is a sharp, dull, or burning pain in one or both ears. The pain may last a short time or be ongoing. Related conditions include:

Alternative Names

Otalgia; Pain - ear; Ear pain

Considerations

The symptoms of an ear infection may include:

Many children will have minor hearing loss during or right after an ear infection. Most of the time the problem goes away. Lasting hearing loss is rare, but the risk increases with the number of infections.

Causes

The eustachian tube runs from the middle part of each ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid that is made in the middle ear. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid can build up. This may lead to pressure behind the eardrum or an ear infection.

Ear pain in adults is less likely to be from an ear infection. Pain that you feel in the ear may be coming from another place, such as your teeth, the joint in your jaw (temporomandibular joint), or your throat. This is called "referred" pain.

Causes of ear pain may include:

Ear pain in a child or infant may be due to infection. Other causes may include:

Home Care

The following steps may help an earache:

For ear pain caused by a change of altitude, such as on an airplane:

The following steps can help prevent earaches:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The doctor will do a physical exam, and look at the ear, nose, and throat areas.

Pain, tenderness, or redness of the mastoid bone behind the ear on the skull is often a sign of a serious infection.

References

Bauer CA, Jenkins HA. Otologic symptoms and syndromes. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 156.

O'Handley JG, Tobin EJ, Shah AR. Otorhinolaryngology. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 19.

Lieberthal AS, Carroll AE, Chonmaitree T. Clinical Practice Guideline: The Diagnosis and Management of Acute Otitis Media. Pediatrics. 2013;131(3): e964-e999.

Coker TR, Chan LS, Newberry SJ, Limbos MA, Suttorp MJ, Shekelle PG, et al. Diagnosis, microbial epidemiology, and antibiotic treatment of acute otitis media in children: a systematic review. JAMA. 2010 Nov 17;304(19):2161-9.


Review Date: 5/14/2014
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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