The pain of an earache can be sharp and piercing, or dull and aching. You may know the cause immediately, or you may struggle to determine what’s wrong when your child is tugging on their ear lobe and crying in pain. Earaches can be debilitating, but they don’t always warrant a round of antibiotics. As a matter of fact, you could find all the relief you need in your medicine cabinet or even in your kitchen.
There are many possible causes for an earache. Cavities, sinus infections, earwax, tonsillitis, and teeth grinding are all relatively common causes. But 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 a fever, pain inside the ear, slight hearing loss, and feeling sick in general. Babies and children may be restless and pull at their ears.
The best home remedy for an earache depends on the cause. If a cavity is to blame, for instance, your earache may not improve until you see a dentist. However, if it’s an ear infection (which often goes away without antibiotics), using a natural remedy could make the illness bearable as your body fights off the infection. Many ear infections clear up on their own in about a week or two, with symptoms starting to get better after a few days. Be sure to check with your child’s pediatrician if your child has ear pain, especially if your child is under 2 years of age (and definitely if the earache is accompanied by a fever). Your doctor can provide guidance on whether you should try home remedies first, or consider an antibiotic.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests analgesics like ibuprofen and acetaminophen to control pain associated with AOM. They’re safe to use with or without antibiotics, just be sure to follow dosing instructions on the label. These medications can also help lower a fever.
Talk to your doctor about the appropriate dose for children. Children and infant versions are available for many over-the-counter pain relievers. It’s unsafe for children under 16 to take aspirin.
People often use ice packs or warm compresses, like a heating pad or damp washcloth, to relieve pain, and 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.
A folk remedy, there’s no hard scientific evidence to prove that oil drops in your ear canal can soothe ear pain. But putting a few warmed drops of olive oil in the ear is safe and could be moderately effective, according to AAP. It’s still a good idea to discuss this method with your doctor first, especially when it comes to children.
Make sure the oil is no warmer than your body temperature using a thermometer, to avoid burning the eardrum.
If it’s a child battling an earache, do your best to get them comfortable by taking their mind off the pain. Put on their favorite movie, bring home a new coloring book, let them play a game on your phone or tablet, pick up their favorite snack, or simply find other things for them to focus on.
This method also works for adults. Treat yourself to a good book or a favorite movie to take your mind off the earache.
Naturopathic ear drops can be found online and in some drug stores. One study found that drops containing herbal extracts in a base of olive oil could be just as, or even more, effective as traditional over-the-counter ear drops.
If you go to the chiropractor for adjustments, you could find that one such appointment can soothe your earache as much as your back pain. One study found that 93 percent of participants had improvement following chiropractic adjustments, and 43 percent of them after only one or two treatments.