Not all ear infections are bacterial or need prescription medication. You may be able to relieve ear pain with home remedies or over-the-counter medications.

Earaches can be debilitating, but they don’t always warrant antibiotics. Prescribing guidelines for ear infections have changed in the last five years. Your child might not even be prescribed antibiotics.

In fact, you could find all the relief you need in your home with treatments such as:

Here are 10 home remedies and over-the-counter treatments for earaches.

The following 10 remedies may help you relieve your pain. That said, treatment can depend on the cause, so you may want to see your doctor first.

1. Over-the-counter pain relievers

You can use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen to control pain associated with a painful type of ear infection called acute otitis media (AOM).

They’re safe to use with or without antibiotics, but be sure to follow the dosing instructions on the label. These medications can also help lower a fever.

Talk with your doctor about the appropriate dose for children. Children and infant versions are available for many OTC pain relievers. It’s unsafe for children under age 16 to take aspirin.

2. Cold or warm compresses

People often use ice packs or warm compresses, like a heating pad or damp washcloth, to relieve pain. The same can be done for ear pain. This method is safe for both children and adults.

Place the ice pack or warm compress over the ear and alternate between warm and cold after 10 minutes. If you prefer either cold or warm, you can use just one compress.

3. Olive oil

Olive oil has some antibacterial properties, though there’s no solid scientific evidence to prove that drops of olive oil in your ear canal can soothe ear pain. That said, putting a few warmed drops of olive oil in the ear is safe and may be worth a try.

It’s still a good idea to discuss this method with your doctor first, especially for children. Make sure the olive oil is no warmer than your body temperature by using a thermometer. This will help you avoid burning the eardrum.

4. Naturopathic drops

Naturopathic ear drops are made from herbal extracts. They can be found online and in some drug stores. An early study found that drops containing herbal extracts in a base of olive oil could be just as, or even more, effective as traditional OTC ear drops.

An old 2001 study found that using these drops may lead to improvement in ear pain levels. That said, a 2019 study suggests that they don’t necessarily help when it comes to treating ear infections.

5. Chiropractic treatment

If you go to the chiropractor for adjustments, you may find that your appointment can soothe your earache as much as your back pain.

There aren’t many studies looking at the effectiveness of this. One older 2011 study suggests it may help, though how it works isn’t understood. The effectiveness will also depend on the cause of your pain, so it’s a good idea to see a doctor first for a diagnosis.

6. Sleep without putting pressure on the ear

Some sleep positions will aggravate pain from ear infections, while some can help relieve it. Sleep with the affected ear raised instead of having it faced down toward the pillow. This can help the ear drain better if necessary.

You can also sleep with your head elevated by using extra pillows. This can also help the ears drain faster.

7. Ginger

Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe pain from earaches. Apply ginger juice or strained oil that was warmed with ginger in it around the outer ear canal. Do not put it directly into the ear.

8. Garlic

Garlic has both antibiotic and pain-relieving properties. Soak crushed garlic for several minutes in warm olive or sesame oil. Strain the garlic out and apply the oil to the ear canal.

9. Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a natural remedy for earaches, particularly if the cause is wax buildup. To use this method of treatment, place several drops of hydrogen peroxide into the affected ear. Let it sit for several minutes before letting it drain into a sink. Rinse your ear with clean, distilled water.

If it’s a child battling an earache, do your best to get them comfortable by taking their mind off the pain.

You may want to:

  • put on their favorite movie
  • bring home a new coloring book
  • have a bubble bath with lots of toys
  • let them play a game on your phone or tablet
  • pick up their favorite snack
  • try to get them to focus on other things

If your child is of teething age, offer cooled teething toys for chewing.

This method also works for adults. Treat yourself to a good book or a favorite movie to take your mind off the earache.

There are many possible causes of earache. Possible causes that are relatively common include:

  • cavities
  • sinus infections
  • earwax
  • tonsillitis
  • teeth grinding

The most common ear infection is acute otitis media (AOM), or a middle ear infection.

It’s characterized by swollen and infected portions of the middle ear. The pain associated with AOM is caused by fluid becoming trapped behind the eardrum. Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • pain inside the ear
  • slight hearing loss
  • feeling sick in general

Babies and children may be restless, cranky, and pull at their ears.

The best home remedy for an earache depends on the cause. If a cavity is to blame, your earache may not improve until you see a dentist. However, if it’s an ear infection, using a natural remedy could make the illness bearable as your body fights off the infection.

Be sure to check with your child’s pediatrician if your child has ear pain, especially if they are under 2 years of age.

If your child is running a high fever, or if a fever lasts longer than a day, seek immediate medical care. High fever for children is defined as:

  • infants less than 3 months old rectal 100.4ºF (38ºC) or greater
  • children 3 months to 3 years old rectal 102ºF (38.9ºC) or greater
  • children of any age oral, rectal, or forehead 104ºF (40ºC) or greater

Your doctor can provide guidance on whether you should try home remedies first or consider an antibiotic.

How do you get rid of an earache fast?

There’s no immediate magic cure for earache, but some natural or over-the-counter remedies can provide relief. Depending on the cause, you may need to get medical treatment.

When should I go to the doctor for earache?

Any time there’s ear pain, it’s a good idea to see a doctor to find the cause and see if you need treatment. That said, if your pain is mild, you can try to wait a bit and see if it resolves on its own. Definitely see a doctor if your pain is acute or you also have a fever.

How long should an earache last?

Many ear infections clear up on their own in about a week or two, with symptoms starting to get better after a few days. However, if your pain has another cause, it may resolve sooner or later. If the pain hasn’t resolved within several days, make an appointment with your doctor.

While there isn’t much evidence on alternative treatments for earaches, many home remedies can soothe the pain.

No Need For Antibiotics The latest guidelines from the AAP suggest that doctors should focus on pain management, not antibiotics, for ear infections. This is because ear infections often go away on their own, and the overuse of antibiotics could lead to antibiotic-resistant infections.