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What can I do if my Ear Hurts?

Anna T.
Updated Jan 24, 2024
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The best way to deal with ear pain depends on the cause, which can range from a build up of ear wax to a ruptured eardrum. While minor pain can often be relieved with over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers and cleaning out the ear, other conditions require prescription medication or even surgery. If your ear hurts for more than a few hours and you have discharge from the ear or a fever of over 101°F (about 38.5°C), see a healthcare professional promptly for treatment.


Having your ears cleaned can often reduce pain, since a build up of earwax in the ear canal can cause a feeling of fullness and discomfort. You can try to do this at home by putting mineral oil or peroxide in your ears, but don't do this if you have discharge, since it could be a sign that your eardrum is perforated. If you can't relieve the pain yourself using these methods, then see a medical professional for help. Don't try to clean out your ears by sticking a cotton swab or anything else in your ear canal, because this can push the earwax further into the ear and make things worse.

Ear Drops

If you have an ear infection, you'll likely need to use either OTC or prescription ear drops to treat it. Analgesic ear drops can help with the pain and are usually available without a prescription, while prescription antibiotic or antifungal ear drops can help treat the underlying infection. People who are prone to ear infections or who swim a lot can also use alcohol-based ear drops on a regular basis to keep the humidity of the ear low and keep bacteria and fungus from growing.

Painkillers and Other Medications

If your ear hurts but you know that there's no infection, then it's generally best to use OTC painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. This is the case for a ruptured eardrum as well as for trauma to the outside of the ear. Taking painkillers can be helpful for referred causes of ear pain too, like trauma to the area, teething, or tempromandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. Heat can act as a natural analgesic, so you may want to hold a hot water bottle or a washcloth that's been soaked in warm water and wrung out over your ear. Be careful not to let water get into your ear if you think that your eardrum has ruptured, however, since this could lead to an infection.

You may need to take other medication if you have a severe ear infection or are experiencing a lot of pressure and ear pain because of another condition, like allergies, a sinus infection, or a cold. Most people take OTC painkillers and then a more specific medication to treat the underlying problem. For instance, if your ears are stuffed and painful because of allergies, you'll likely need to take an antihistamine, but if you have a bacterial sinus infection, then you'll need to take antibiotics.

Ear Tubes, Ear Patches, and Surgery

If you repeatedly get ear infections or have a problem with the pressure in your eustachian tubes, then you may want to get tympanostomy or ear tubes. These keep the middle ear open so that the pressure remains equalized and fluid doesn't build up. These can be implanted by a medical professional with only a local anesthetic in adults, but children are generally put under general anesthesia while a surgeon implants the tubes to keep them from moving during the procedure.

A ruptured eardrum may be treated with an ear patch to cover the hole until it heals and speed up the healing time. Most of the time, however, the eardrum will heal on its own without help. If it doesn't heal properly, then you may need to get a tympanoplasty, which is a surgical repair.

When to Seek Medical Help

Since ear pain can be a sign of a serious condition, healthcare professionals recommend getting treatment if your ear hurts for more than a few hours, especially if the pain is intense or radiates to other parts of your head. This is especially important if you routinely have pain, have had previous problems with your ears, feel dizzy, have a high fever, or have muffled hearing. You should also see a medical professional promptly if you get pus or a bloody discharge from your ear, since it can be a sign that your eardrum has ruptured. Parents should take their children to the doctor if they are unusually fussy for several hours, pull on their ears repeatedly while crying, or have a high fever.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to WiseGeek. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.

Discussion Comments

By anon946200 — On Apr 17, 2014

I hit my he'd against the wall really hard now my ear is all muffled. I have a headache, and I don't know if I did any damage? Any suggestions?

By Kristee — On Aug 03, 2012

I always know that I am about to be sick if my ear hurts when I swallow. This is usually followed by a congested nose and a sore throat.

It's weird how the throat, ears, and nose are linked. I have had sore throats that seemed to travel down into my ear canal, and when I would blow my nose hard, I could feel pressure shooting into my ears!

If all I have is a cold, I just have to wait it out. If I have symptoms of a sinus infection, though, I go to my doctor. She can give me antibiotics that will clear things up quickly, and my earache will go away when everything else does.

By DylanB — On Aug 02, 2012

@wavy58 – It's good that you went and got antibiotics. The longer you go without inner ear infection treatment, the worse the pain becomes.

I know that it takes awhile for the antibiotics to stop the infection that is causing the pain. Since you don't have any prescription painkillers, you could try one trick that helps enhance the effects of acetaminophen.

If you take it with a caffeinated drink, its painkilling powers become more potent. So, grab a cup of strong coffee or a highly caffeinated soda and take the recommended dosage with it.

I used this method to treat my ear pain once, and it really helped. Like you, I hadn't been having any luck with the over-the-counter meds on their own.

By wavy58 — On Aug 02, 2012

I went swimming a couple of weeks ago, and I have had an earache ever since. Even though I put drops in my ears that were supposed to help dry the water up, my ears felt blocked for several days, and I have been having trouble hearing with my right ear.

I went to my doctor yesterday, and she gave me antibiotic ear drops. I asked her what I could take for the pain, and she said that I should just try over-the-counter pain relievers.

I have tried ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen, but I am still in pain. Does anyone know if there is anything I can do or take that will stop the ache?

By seag47 — On Aug 01, 2012

I remember the time that I ruptured my ear drum as a child. I had poked a cotton swab too far down in my ear canal, and I screamed in pain when it hit my ear drum.

My mother told me to stop using cotton swabs in my ears, because she knew that something like this could happen again. She told me that the pain should go away in a few minutes, but it didn't.

A few hours later, I came to her crying and saying, “My ear hurts inside.” She saw fluid draining out of my ear, and she called the doctor.

He said that it should heal on its own. He did agree with my mother that she should keep the cotton swabs out of reach until I was older.

Anna T.

Anna T.

Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to WiseGeek. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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