An earache is a sharp, dull, or burning pain in one or both ears. The pain may last a short time or be ongoing. Related conditions include:
The symptoms of an ear infection may include:
Many children will have minor hearing loss during or right after an ear infection. Most of the time the problem goes away. Lasting hearing loss is rare, but the risk increases with the number of infections.
The eustachian tube runs from the middle part of each ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid that is made in the middle ear. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid can build up. This may lead to pressure behind the eardrum or an ear infection.
Ear pain in adults is less likely to be from an ear infection. Pain that you feel in the ear may be coming from another place, such as your teeth, the joint in your jaw (temporomandibular joint), or your throat. This is called "referred" pain.
Causes of ear pain may include:
Ear pain in a child or infant may be due to infection. Other causes may include:
The following steps may help an earache:
For ear pain caused by a change of altitude, such as on an airplane:
The following steps can help prevent earaches:
Call your doctor if:
The doctor will do a physical exam, and look at the ear, nose, and throat areas.
Pain, tenderness, or redness of the mastoid bone behind the ear on the skull is often a sign of a serious infection.
Otalgia; Pain - ear; Ear pain
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O'Handley JG, Tobin EJ, Shah AR. Otorhinolaryngology. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 19.
Lieberthal AS, Carroll AE, Chonmaitree T. Clinical Practice Guideline: The Diagnosis and Management of Acute Otitis Media. Pediatrics. 2013;131(3): e964-e999.
Coker TR, Chan LS, Newberry SJ, Limbos MA, Suttorp MJ, Shekelle PG, et al. Diagnosis, microbial epidemiology, and antibiotic treatment of acute otitis media in children: a systematic review. JAMA. 2010 Nov 17;304(19):2161-9.
Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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