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What causes an earache?

An earache is quite a common complaint, especially in children. It may affect one or both ears, but the majority of the time it is in one ear. The pain it causes can be worrying, but it will often get better in a few days without treatment.

Earache is generally caused by an ear infection, but can also be caused by:

  • A hardened build-up of earwax or an object stuck inside the ear.
  • Changes in air pressure, such as when you take off or land in a plane (called aeroplane ear).
  • Injury to the inside of the ear.
  • Referred pain from a throat infection.
  • A problem with the joint of your jaw bone.
  • Dental issues such as an abscess.


When to contact your GP or Ear Nurse

You should also seek immediate medical attention if the earache is the result of something that is stuck in your ear. Do not attempt to remove the foreign object yourself. Contact your nearest Ear Health clinic, GP, or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.

Also seek assistance if you have other symptoms such as:

  • A high temperature (fever).
  • Severe ear pain, especially if it stops suddenly as this is a sign the eardrum may have ruptured.
  • Vomiting.
  • A severe sore throat.
  • Swelling or pain around the ear.
  • Discharge from the ear.
  • The earache doesn’t improve within a few days.
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