Earache is extremely common in children and adults. It is usually caused by an inflammation or swelling of different parts of the ear, such as the external auditory canal, the tympanic membrane (ear drum) or the middle ear. In certain rare scenarios, an earache may also be a side effect of a throat infection.
Earache can usually be categorized as following:
- Otitis externa: This happens when there is an ear infection in the auditory canal (where ear wax usually forms). This is very common after taking a swim (especially in a public pool), hence it is also known as swimmer’s ear.
- Myringitis: This occurs when there is an inflammation on the tympanic membrane (ear drum).
- Otitis media:This happens when there is an infection on the eardrum and the middle ear. This is most common among infants and younger children, however, anyone is susceptible to it.
Causes of Earache
As earaches can be of different types, they have different causes as well.
Causes of Otitis Externa
The outer auditory canal can be infected because of a couple of different reasons:
- Minor scrape in the auditory canal: If there is a minor scrape in the auditory canal, it is susceptible to bacterial infection until the wound heals. It is usually caused when people do not follow some common-sense sanitary options while cleaning out their ear wax. (For example, although people know better, many tend to clean out their ear wax using sharp objects rather than a Q-tip or a similar product).
- Moisture in the ear canal: It is very common for water to enter the ear canal while bathing or swimming. However, if the water is not properly expelled, it makes the environment highly conducive for bacteria or even fungi (although rare) to thrive. Sometimes, just the moisture significantly disrupts our equilibrium and causes earaches. This symptom is also known as glue ear.
- Folliculitis: If the root (also known as the follicle) of a strand of hair growing in the ear canal becomes infected, it would lead to a painful condition known as folliculitis in the ear canal that may result in earache.
- Eczema: If the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis (more commonly known as eczema) shows up inside your ear canal, it can result in an earache as well.
Causes of Myringitis
The tympanic membrane may also be inflamed because of the following reasons:
- Local trauma: If the ear drum gets punctured due to external injury or by the use of unsanitary ear-cleaning habits, it can cause a significant amount of pain.
- Bullous myringitis: If left untreated, the infection from the ear canal may reach the ear drum as well. Sometimes the infections may directly originate from the ear drum itself! Either way, this may cause blisters being formed on the ear drum, (a condition known as bullous myringitis) which can be extremely painful.
- Blockage: If there is a buildup of ear wax that has not been cleaned periodically, it would put some pressure on the ear drum, which can lead to an earache.
Causes of Otitis Media
The middle ear can be inflamed due to a wide variety of reasons such as
- Throat infections (tonsillitis).
- Fluid build-up in the sinus cavities.
- Seasonal allergies.
- Tempomandibular joint pain, which causes pain in the jaw.
- Exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Bottle-feeding while lying flat.
- Genetic factors, that leads to abnormal anatomy in the middle ear.
- Wisdom teeth.
Effective Home Remedies for Earache
Unless caused by genetic abnormalities, most cases of earache can be treated by these common home remedies.
Garlic is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, which you can harness to create a highly effective topical remedy for earache. You would need the following ingredients:
- 5 finely chopped garlic cloves
- ½ a cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 20 drops of eucalyptus essential oil.
Once you have gathered the ingredients, you need to implement the following steps:
- Place garlic and olive oil in a saucepan and let it simmer for about eight minutes at very low heat.
- Strain the garlic cloves out of the liquid. Squeeze really hard on the cloves to ensure that you extract as much of the garlic essence as you possibly can.
- Add the eucalyptus oil and mix it thoroughly.
Now that you have prepared the treatment, following is how you would apply it:
- Take a glass eyedropper and place it under a stream of hot water for one minute. This is done to heat the dropper.
- Dry it quickly, to retain as much of the heat as possible.
- Pour two drops of the liquid in every ear.
The above treatment can be applied as frequently as needed, even if each application is only thirty minutes apart. The sufferer may find some relief anywhere between two to seven days.
Consuming foods that are rich in garlic will also fortify your body internally against earaches. Asian and Indian cuisines make liberal use of garlic in most of their preparations.
- Hydrogen Peroxide
One of the most popular methods of treating earaches is also one of the most effective home remedies for the same, especially if it is caused by a bacterial infection. The 5% solution of hydrogen peroxide available at your local drugstore is perfectly safe for your ear canal and the tympanic membrane, but is absolutely toxic for the bacteria that is causing the earache. Following is how you would apply the treatment.
- Pour adequate amount of a 5% solution of hydrogen peroxide in a bowl.
- Soak a cotton ball in the peroxide.
- Squeeze a few drops of the peroxide in the ear canal. Let it stay there for a minute and then let it pour out naturally.
- Repeat the above steps for the other ear.
If used too often, even the highly diluted peroxide may be a little caustic for the ear canal. Hence refrain from using this treatment for more than once a day.
Please note that hydrogen peroxide is also useful for softening earwax.
- Hot Compresses
If there is an inflammation in the ear, it can put pressure on your blood vessels, impeding blood flow. This causes a build-up, which then manifests in the form of an earache. By applying hot compresses, you help dilate the blood vessels, which would lower the blood pressure and aid the flow of blood into and out of the affected area.
There are several ways you can apply this treatment. You can use a heating pad or a hot water bottle. You may even immerse a washcloth in hot water and apply that (after you wring it and get rid of the excess moisture, of course).
One can even use the heat from a blow dryer for similar effect. However, while using a blow dryer, the following safeguards needs to be kept in mind:
- It should be set at the lowest ‘heat’ setting possible.
- Make sure that the nozzle of the blow dryer is at least ten inches away from the ear cavity.
- Do not apply it for more than five minutes at a time.
- Cold Compresses
If you are suffering from earaches due to seasonal allergies, then using a cold compress may provide you with some relief. Allergens trigger our immune system to produce histamines, which causes what is known as an ‘allergic reaction’, which would be an earache in this case. The cold from a cold compress constricts blood vessels, thus reducing the amount of histamines that reaches the inflamed area, providing some relief from the earache.
You can use a traditional ice-pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or you may even wrap some ice cubes in a washcloth and apply it on the affected area. However, you need to make sure that:
- None of the water or moisture enters the ear canal, as it may cause symptoms of glue ear.
- The skin does not come in direct contact with the ice cubes.
- Mullein Oil
If you live in Europe or Asia, then you may have the common mullein (Verbascumthapsus) growing in your backyard. One can harness the anti-inflammatory properties of this plant to treat earaches as well. To prepare this treatment, you will need the following ingredients:
- Enough mullein flowers to fill a jar.
- Extra virgin olive oil.
- One finely chopped garlic clove
- A tinted jar.
After you have gathered the ingredients, undergo the following steps to prepare the treatment:
- Fill the jar with mullein blooms. Add the chopped garlic clove and then fill the jar with olive oil.
- Seal the jar and let it sit for a couple of weeks.
Once the treatment is ready, you can apply it the same way you would apply the garlic oil.
- Olive Oil
Olive oil is a natural lubricant that can help cure myringitis caused by a built-up of earwax. Couple of drops of olive oil applied using a warm glass dropper (as described in the garlic section) will soften the earwax that you can easily remove with the help of a Q-tip.
Onion has natural anti-bacterial properties that can help treat infections in the auditory canal as well as on the tympanic membrane. Following is how you can apply the treatment:
- Take half an onion and put it in the blender.
- Wrap the mush in a muslin cloth and squeeze to extract the juice.
- Heat this juice on very low heat. The onion juice should be warm to the touch, but it should not be scalding hot.
- Apply a few drops in every ear using a warm glass dropper.
Ginger is a natural painkiller and it has anti-inflammatory properties as well. You can pour a few drops of fresh ginger juice in the affected ear. You can also create an ear infusion using ginger:
- Take a piece of ginger root and extract the juice the exact same way you would extract the onion juice, as mentioned in the previous section.
- Take one tablespoon of ginger juice and add two tablespoons of olive oil or sesame seed oil. Mix them thoroughly over a low flame. The resulting mixture should be warm to the touch, but should not be scalding hot.
- Apply it in both ears using a warm glass dropper.
- Basil Leaves
Basil leaves have natural anti-microbial properties, which can be used to cure an ear infection. Following is how you do it:
- Simply crush a handful of freshly plucked basil leaves using a pestle and mortar to create a mushy paste.
- Wrap this mush with a piece of cloth to extract the juice.
- Pour a couple of drops in each ear canal.
Peppermint has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that can be used to treat an earache. You can either user peppermint leaves or combine peppermint essential oil with olive oil.
- Using peppermint leaves: To be applied the same way you would apply the basil leaves treatment mentioned in the previous section.
- Using peppermint essential oil: You can prepare and apply this treatment via the following steps:
- Take two drops of peppermint essential oil and mix it with ten drops of olive oil.
- Apply a few drops of this mixture in each ear.
The peppermint oil mixture can also be applied externally to relieve earaches caused by a fluid build-up.
- Eucalyptus Oil
Eucalyptus oil is useful for treating earaches caused by a fluid build-up in the inner ear or in sinus cavities. Following is how you can use eucalyptus oil to help get rid of your earache:
- Boil some water and pour it in a wide bowl.
- Add about ten drops of eucalyptus oil and a tablespoon of Vick’s Vaporub® to it.
- Inhale the steam till your pain subsides.
Feel free to repeat this treatment as many times as you would like throughout the course of the day.
Besides eucalyptus oil, one can utilize the decongestant and anti-inflammatory properties of different herbs such as elderberry flowers, German chamomile or lemon balm.
- Bishop’s Weed
Bishop’s weed (known as ajwain in South Asia) is another natural painkiller that can be used to treat an earache. Following is how you may prepare the treatment:
- Mix one teaspoon of bishop’s weed oil with three teaspoons of sesame seed oil and warm it gently on a low flame.
- Pour a couple of drops in each ear.
You can combine the anti-inflammatory properties of garlic with the painkilling properties of bishop’s weed to create an even more potent treatment. Following is how you can achieve that:
- Heat two teaspoons of mustard oil.
- Add half a teaspoon of bishop’s weed oil and a couple of garlic flakes.
- Heat this mixture till the garlic flakes turn red.
- Strain the mixture and let it cool down so that it is slightly warm to the touch.
- Pour a couple of drops in each ear.
- Essential Oils
Essential oils are extracted after processing various parts of certain plants. These are highly concentrated and extremely strong, hence it may cause a harsh reaction on your skin if applied in an undiluted form. However, if they are properly diluted using a “carrier oil” (olive oil and sesame seed oil are the ones that are most commonly used) then they can be an effective treatment for a wide variety of ailments, including an earache.
Tea tree oil is renowned for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties and lavender oil is a natural painkiller. Combining the two can make a completely natural, yet highly effective treatment for earache. To create the treatment you need to mix 10 drops of lavender essential oil and 10 drops of tea tree oil and use a quarter cup of olive oil as a carrier oil. Mix it thoroughly and apply a few drops in every ear to get relief.
Some people are allergic or highly sensitive to tea tree oil, hence you need to determine whether the sufferer is sensitive to it before you apply this treatment. Simply mix equal parts of tea tree oil and a carrier oil and apply it on an unblemished part of the skin, such as the inner side of the elbow. One should feel a minor stinging sensation, (which is perfectly normal) that should subside after a few seconds. However, if someone feels a burning sensation that goes on for a significant amount of time, chances are they might be allergic to it and one should pursue an alternate course of treatment.
- Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) has potent anti-microbial properties that can be used to treat earaches caused by a bacterial infection. Following is how you would apply this treatment:
- Dilute organic ACV with equal parts of water and pour it in your ear.
- Leave it in for a minute and then let it run out of your ear canal.
- Repeat the steps mentioned above for your other ear.
Just like tea tree oil, some people may be overly sensitive to ACV as well. You may test the sufferer’s sensitivity to diluted ACV the same way you would for tea tree oil.
For best results, use organic ACV that has the “mother of vinegar” still in it.
- Chiropractic Treatment
A limited study conducted by a private chiropractor practicing in a Minneapolis suburb stated that 93% of his patients saw an improvement in their symptoms after a chiropractic adjustment and 43% of his patients saw an improvement after just two sessions. The scientific community is divided when it comes to determining the validity of chiropractic treatments, so please use your discretion before you opt for this method.
Things to do while you are waiting for the home remedy to work
Home remedies are great because they are completely non-intrusive usually does not have any side-effects. However, these treatments will take some time before their effects are fully realized. You can do the following in the meantime:
- In case of an inordinate amount of pain, you can utilize the analgesic effects of some over the counter (OTC) painkillers such as ibuprofen or a paracetamol.
- If the home remedies fail to have their intended effect, you can consult your pharmacist about an OTC eardrop.
- In case of an ear infection, keep the affected ear dry.
- If your child is suffering from an earache, try to keep her distracted with her favorite movies or TV shows, so that she does not focus on the pain.
When to See a Doctor
You should consult a physician or visit the emergency room if you notice the following:
- If there is something stuck in the sufferer’s ear.
- If there is any pus coming out of the ear canal.
- If the earache is accompanied with other symptoms such as:
- High fever (Over 105 F)
- Swelling around the ear
- Sore throat (severe)