Earache is a common problem, particularly in children. It can be worrying, but it's usually caused by a minor infection and will often get better in a few days without treatment. This page has information on common causes of earache.

Symptoms of earache 

Earache can be a sharp, dull or burning pain in the ear that comes and goes or is constant. You may get pain in just one or both ears.

When to get medical advice 

It's not always necessary to see your GP if you or your child have earache. The pain will often improve in a few days. There are things you can do to help (see what you can do at home).

You should contact your GP or GP out of hours service if: 

  • you or your child also has other symptoms, such as a high temperature (fever), vomiting, a severe sore throat, swelling around the ear, or discharge from the ear
  • there's something stuck in your or your child's ear
  • the earache doesn't improve with painkillers within four days
  • children are under two years of age with pain and infection in both ears

What you can do at home 

To treat the pain, you can use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. These can be bought over the counter. Children under the age of 16 shouldn't take aspirin.

If the discomfort is mild, and in the outer ear, placing a warm flannel against the affected ear may also help relieve the pain. Care must be taken to make sure the flannel is not hot, to avoid scalding or burning of the skin.

Your pharmacist may be able to recommend over-the-counter eardrops for your earache. Tell them about your symptoms and ask for their advice first.

Eardrops or olive oil drops shouldn't be used if your eardrum has burst (a perforated eardrum), and if treating an ear infection.

It's important to avoid getting the affected ear wet if you have an ear infection.

Common causes of earache 

Ear infections 

If an ear infection is causing your earache, there may be a watery or pus-like fluid coming out of your ear.

Common causes of earache include:

Ear infections often clear up on their own without treatment after a few days or weeks.

Many infections in the middle ear are viral and would not improve with antibiotic treatment.

Many outer ear symptoms can be caused by non-infectious conditions such as dermatitis. In some cases, depending on the cause, your GP may prescribe eardrops or antibiotics.

Glue ear 

Glue ear is also known as otitis media with effusion (OME). It is a build-up of fluid deep inside the ear. Glue ear commonly causes some temporary hearing loss. The condition tends to be painless. However, sometimes the pressure created by the fluid can cause earache.

Glue ear often clears up on its own. This can take a few months. If the problem is ongoing, a minor procedure to place small tubes called grommets in the ear may be recommended. This is to help drain the fluid.

Ear damage 

Earache can sometimes be caused by an injury to the inside of the ear – for example, by:

  • scraping earwax from the ear canal using a cotton bud
  • poking a cotton bud too far into your ear, which can puncture the eardrum

The ear canal is very sensitive and can be easily damaged. The ear should heal on its own without treatment. It can take up to two months for a perforated eardrum to heal.

If you have a perforated eardrum, you shouldn't use eardrops.


build-up of earwax can sometimes cause earache.

If you have a build-up of earwax in your ear, your pharmacist will be able to recommend eardrops to soften it so it falls out naturally.

In some cases, your GP may need to remove the wax (once softened with eardrops) by flushing the ear with water. This is known as ear irrigation.

An object in the ear 

If there's something in your or your child's ear that's causing pain, don't try to remove it yourself. This is because you may push it further inside which could damage the eardrum.

Contact your GP or GP out of hours service. Your GP may need to refer you or your child to a specialist to have it removed.

Throat infections 

If you find it painful to swallow and you have a sore throat, your earache could be a symptom of a throat infection, such as:

  • tonsillitis – inflammation of the tonsils that's usually caused by a viral infection
  • quinsy – an abscess on one side of the back of your throat, which can sometimes make it very difficult to swallow even fluids

Most sore throats clear up after a few days without the need for antibiotics. 

If you have quinsy, you'll need to see your GP as soon as possible for treatment. You may have quinsy if you have a sore throat that gets worse very quickly.

Jaw problem 

Earache can be caused by a problem with the joint of your jaw bone (where the jaw meets the skull).

This is known as temporomandibular joint pain and can occur as a result of problems such as arthritis or teeth grinding.

Jaw pain can often be relieved:

  • with painkillers
  • warm or cold compresses
  • trying not to clench your jaw and grind your teeth

Dental abscess 

dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form in your teeth or gums as a result of a bacterial infection. The main symptom is pain in the affected tooth, which can be intense and throbbing. Sometimes, the pain can spread to your ear.

Make a dental appointment as soon as possible if you think you have a dental abscess. Your dentist will need to remove the source of the infection and drain the pus from the abscess.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

Health conditions A to Z

Search by health condition or symptoms

Or find conditions beginning with …

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email:

For queries or advice about property valuation, email:

For queries or advice about land registry, email:

For mapping queries, email:

What to do next

If you can’t find the information you’re looking for in the Coronavirus (COVID-19) section, then for queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.