Pain in one or both ears is a distressing symptom, especially for children. Earache is usually caused by an infection in the outer or middle ear. Mild discomfort, however, may be due to wax blockage. Consult your doctor if you have earache, particularly if it is persistent. A severe or recurrent middle-ear infection may damage hearing.

  • Does pulling the ear lobe make the pain worse?

    • Increases pain
      • Possible cause Your earache is probably due to an infection of the outer ear (see Otitis externa) or a boil in the ear canal.

        Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

    • Pain is no worse

      Is there a discharge from the affected ear?

      • Discharge
        • Possible cause You may have a middle-ear infection (see Otitis media) with a perforated eardrum; an outer-ear infection (see Otitis externa) is another possibility.

          Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

      • No discharge

        Do you have a runny or stuffy nose?

        • Yes
          • Possible cause A cold (see Common cold) is often accompanied by mild earache. Persistent or severe earache is likely to be due to a middle-ear infection (see Otitis media).

            Self-help Take decongestants to relieve stuffiness and painkillers to relieve discomfort. Make an appointment to see your doctor if pain is severe or persists for longer than 2 days.

        • No

          Did the pain start during or immediately after an aeroplane flight?

          • During or immediately after an aeroplane flight
            • Possible cause Barotrauma may be the cause of your pain.

              Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor if the discomfort persists for longer than 24 hours.

          • Unrelated to air travel
            • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your earache from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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