Earache Relief: Treating an Earache at Home

Chris Yun, MDby Chris Yun, MD
Earache Relief: Treating an Earache at Home

What causes earaches?

The causes of earache depend on which part of the ear is affected. Most causes are associated with middle or outer ear infections. Common causes include:

  • Too much earwax

  • Fluid buildup in the ear

  • An object or foreign substance in the ear

  • An injured eardrum, including from exposure to loud noises or loud music

  • Inflammation of the ear canal

  • Water trapped inside the ear

  • Allergies (e.g., hypersensitive reactions to earrings, soaps, and shampoo)

  • Air pressure changes (e.g., flight take-off and landing)

Other possible causes include inflammation, infection, or referred pain from other parts of the body:

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders (jaw joint problems)

  • Dental issues (tooth infection or grinding)

  • Skin infection around the ears

  • Sinus infections

  • Sore throat

Treating an earache at home

OTC pain relievers

Two pain relief medicines can help:  

  • Ibuprofen

  • Acetaminophen

Hot or cold compresses

The choice of hot or cold temperatures depends on you. Use a hot or cold towel at a temperature that’s most comfortable for you and apply it to the affected area. Alternating between hot and cold every ten minutes is one helpful method.

Heating pad

A heating pad is a temperature-regulated device. Laying a warm heating pad on the affected ear can help ease pain. Ensure that the heating pad is not too hot and that you don’t leave it on for prolonged periods, as it can cause burns.


Steam works as a remedy to drain water from the middle ear

  • Fill a large bowl with steaming water or use a steamer

  • Cover your head with a towel or large cloth to contain the steam while holding your face over the steaming bowl or steamer- don’t lean in too far, as you may burn your airways if you breathe in too much, too quickly

  • Inhale the steam for 5-10 minutesTilt your painful ear upwards

OTC Eardrops

Eardrops may be used in either of these cases:

  • To remove painful earwax

  • An outer ear infection like swimmer’s ear

If ear wax is a problem, use ear drops like Debrox to soften the wax so that the wax can be removed. If you are not sure if the earache is due to wax buildup, consult your doctor for advice. NEVER stick a Q-tip in your ear, and if your earwax buildup symptoms persist, it may be time to visit an ENT.


An outer ear infection requires prescription eardrops from a doctor which usually contain antibiotics and/or steroids. 

Sleep upright or with the ear elevated

Use two or more pillows to raise your head higher than the rest of your body so that the affected ear is elevated. The reduced pressure will help ease the pain. If you have a left earache, sleep on the right side and vice versa.


Massage can be used for teeth or jaw radiating ear pain that is causing a headache. A gentle massage of the affected area and surrounding muscles will help. If the pain arises behind the ear, massage the neck and jaw muscles. This technique may also help ease ear infection pain:

  • Gently apply pressure behind the ears and the neck in a downward motion

  • While continuing to apply pressure downward, slowly proceed toward the front of the ears


The technique can help drain extra fluid from the ears thus preventing pain from worsening.

Folk remedies — are they safe and do they work?

Folk remedies are traditional medical remedies not prescribed by a doctor. These remedies involve natural ingredients such as salt, garlic, or other essential oils but are not scientifically proven to be effective.

These remedies may not agree with everyone and in some cases may lead to adverse effects. Consult with a specialist before trying folk remedies for earaches, especially if you have a history of allergies and ear problems.

Gargle with salt water

Similar to sipping warm liquids such as lemon or honey-infused tea (often used to soothe sore throats), the salt water gargling method is a good way to ease ear pain linked to a sore throat.

  • Use a 1-to-5 ratio of salt to warm water

  • Mix well

  • Gargle small sips and spit out after you gargle

While onions, onion juice, ginger, and olive oil are popular home remedies, it is very important for a doctor to rule out a perforated tympanic membrane – a ruptured eardrum – before putting any non-prescription drops in your ear.

Chewing gum

Chewing gum is a popular trick used to get rid of ear pain caused by air pressure, as chewing gum helps to pop open the blocked ear.

Hydrogen peroxide

This folk remedy helps to get rid of excess water and dry out the ear, especially when water gets trapped in the ear (e.g., when swimming).

  • Prepare a 1-to-1 ratio of hydrogen peroxide and water.

  • Pour a few drops of the mixture with a clean dropper into the affected ear.

What NOT to do

During an earache, it's important to avoid doing anything that could worsen the pain or cause further damage to the ear.

  • Do not insert objects or cotton swabs into the ear canal, as this can push wax further in and cause injury.

  • Do not expose the affected ear to loud noises.

  • Avoid activities that cause sudden changes in air pressure (e.g., traveling by airplane) as this can worsen pain

  • Avoid getting water into your ear.

Should you take antibiotics?

Taking antibiotics for earache depends on what’s causing the pain. Earaches such as acute otitis media, caused by bacterial infections, may need antibiotics - but if earaches are caused by viral infections or other non-bacterial factors like fluid buildup or wax impaction, then antibiotics will be useless.

Even in children, many ear infections are caused by viruses and will not be cured with antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance and other health problems and must therefore be avoided as much as possible.

When to call your doctor about an earache

Some symptoms associated with earaches may indicate a serious underlying condition that requires medical attention, and that’s when you need to call your doctor.


See your doctor about the earache in case

  • The pain is severe or persistent, lasting for 24-48 hours

  • Symptoms are getting worse as compared to when the pain began.

  • Earache occurs with high fever, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting

  • Discharge (pus) or bleeding from the ear

  • Previous history of ear problems

  • Recent ear surgery

  • Earache causes hearing loss or ringing in the ears

  • Swelling or redness around the ear

  • Severe ear pain that suddenly stops (a sign of a ruptured eardrum)

  • You have a weak immune system due to a medical condition or medications


If earache in adults persists for more than a day or is accompanied by severe pain, discharge, hearing loss, dizziness, or a fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, it is important to call a doctor. Also, if the earache is accompanied by swelling, redness, or tenderness around the ear or jaw or any other abnormal symptoms, you must see a doctor.

Earaches in babies and children

Babies and toddlers will typically not touch their ears or signal that their ear is bothering them. Even if they have an ear infection, fussiness or sleepiness may be their only symptom.


How do you get rid of an earache fast?

First, determine the cause. Based on whether the earache is caused by an inflammation or infection, you can use OTC pain relievers to relieve the pain immediately. Applying a hot or cold compress is another option. If the pain is due to wax buildup or fluid accumulation, an earwax removal kit or nasal decongestants work well. Exercise caution for whatever home remedies you use, especially if you are unsure of what’s causing the pain.


Is earache linked to COVID?

Although some people with COVID-19 have reported experiencing ear pain as well as other ear-related symptoms such as tinnitus or hearing loss, earache is not a common symptom of COVID-19.


How long should an earache last?

The duration of an earache depends on what’s causing it. In some cases, earaches may last for a few hours to a day or two. If the ache is due to a minor problem like wax buildup or a mild infection, it will usually pass on its own. If you are being treated for earache and it is taking a while, note that the effectiveness depends on the treatment. If the ache is caused by a more serious condition related to the middle ear, it may take longer.

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