Ear pain can feel unbearable, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or do anything but think about the pain. Many children find it particularly difficult to deal with an earache.
People who are experiencing severe ear pain should always speak to a doctor, especially for the first time. However, there are remedies that people can use at home to relieve less severe earaches, or as a means of reducing pain.
This article explores nine effective home remedies that may help people experiencing ear pain.
Causes of ear pain
An earache can be mild but an ear infection can cause debilitating pain.
Ear infections are the most common cause of ear pain. When the ear becomes infected, inflammation and buildup of pressure cause pain that can be intense.
People with ear infections often have other symptoms, such as sinus pressure or a sore throat because infections from nearby areas may affect the ear. An ear infection can also be a standalone condition. Most ear infections are bacterial, not viral.
Only a doctor can diagnose an ear infection. People should not take antibiotics without a prescription, or assume that symptoms are due to an ear infection.
However, earaches are not always caused by an ear infection. Other conditions can also cause pain in the ear.
- Referred pain: This may be from infections or inflammation elsewhere in the body. For example, a toothache may cause aching pain in the ear.
- Chronic conditions: These include temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction.
- Skin infections: If they are in or around the ear.
- Allergic reactions: These could be from a range of things, such as soap, shampoo, or earrings.
- Water: This may cause pain if trapped in the ear.
- Pressure: Changes in altitude can affect pressure in the ears. This usually resolves on its own, often with a popping sensation.
If left untreated, ear infections can spread to the jaw and other regions of the body. They may also damage the ear itself and can cause dangerously high fevers.
When symptoms of an ear problem are present and do not resolve on their own within a day or two, people should speak to a doctor. If the pain is intense, is accompanied by a high fever, or includes hearing loss, people should seek medical attention immediately.
Nine home remedies for earache
If an earache is not severe, or if a person is waiting for medical treatment to take effect, they may wish to try home remedies to relieve pain.
Here are a series of nine effective home remedies for people experiencing ear pain:
1. Over-the-counter medication
Anti-inflammatory drugs can help relieve the pain and discomfort.
Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID's) can temporarily reduce the pain of an earache. People experiencing ear pain can try:
It is important to remember that it is not safe to give aspirin to babies and young children. This is because of the risk of a potentially life-threatening condition called Reye's syndrome.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that parents speak to a doctor before giving over-the-counter drugs to a child under 2 years old.
These drugs can cause serious side effects in babies and young children. Note also that the dosage for children is often significantly lower than the proper dosage for adults.
Heat from an electric heating pad or hot pack can reduce inflammation and pain in the ear.
Apply a hot pad to the ear for 20 minutes. For best results, people should touch the neck and throat with the hot pad.
The heating pad should not be unbearably hot. People should never fall asleep with a heating pad, or allow a child to use a hot pack without adult supervision.
A cold pack can help with the pain of an earache.
Try wrapping ice in paper towels or freezing a cold pack and then covering it with a light cloth. Hold this to the ear and the area immediately under the ear for 20 minutes.
The cold should not hurt, and parents should never apply ice directly to their children's skin.
Some people find that heat offers greater relief than cold. For others, alternating hot and cold packs (20 minutes hot, followed by 20 minutes cold) provides the best pain relief.
4. Ear drops
Over-the-counter ear drops can reduce pressure in the ear caused by fluid and earwax.
People should read the directions carefully, and talk to a doctor before using ear drops on a child.
Ear drops are no substitute for prescription ear drops or antibiotics, so people should only use them for a few days. If symptoms return, people should see a doctor.
It is important to remember that people should not use ear drops in a child with tubes in their ears or whose eardrum has ruptured.
Gentle massage can help with ear pain that radiates from the jaw or teeth, or that causes a tension headache.
People can massage the tender area, as well as any surrounding muscles. For example, if the area behind the ear hurts, try massaging the muscles of the jaw and neck.
Massage may also help with the pain of an ear infection.
- Using a downward motion, apply pressure beginning just behind the ears and down the neck.
- Continuing to apply pressure downward, work forward to the front of the ears.
This type of massage may help drain excess fluid from the ears, and prevent the pain from getting worse.
Eating a clove of garlic a day may help prevent ear infections.
Garlic has long been used in folk medicine to relieve pain. Some research suggests it has antimicrobial properties that can fight infection.
People should not use it as a substitute for antibiotics a doctor has recommended. Instead, consider adding garlic to an antibiotic regimen to speed up relief.
To prevent ear infections, try eating a clove of garlic each day.
Garlic ear drops may also reduce pain and prevent an infection from getting worse. Cook two or three cloves in two tablespoons of mustard or sesame seed oil until brown, then strain the mix. Then, apply a drop or two to each ear.
Like garlic, onions can help fight infection and reduce pain. Also like garlic, onions are not a substitute for medical attention.
Heat an onion in the microwave for a minute or two. Then, strain the liquid and apply several drops to the ear. A person may want to lie down for 10 minutes, and then allow the liquid to flow out of the ear. Repeat this as needed.
Sucking can help reduce pressure in the Eustachian tubes, offering some relief.
Babies who are nursing may feel better when allowed and encouraged to nurse as frequently as possible. Adults and children can suck on hard candy or cough drops.
9. Breast milk
Breast milk has antimicrobial properties. Some research suggests that a mother's breast milk changes based on the microbes to which a baby is exposed.
This means that breast milk is most effective in babies. However, some sources suggest that breast milk may even help adults. Infants and children should continue nursing to get the most benefits from breast milk.
In nursing babies, as well as in children and adults, topical application of breast milk may also help. Even if it doesn't, breast milk is unlikely to cause any serious side effects.
People can try dropping a few drops of breast milk in each ear, and repeat the application every few hours as needed.