The Earache Epidemic
Like a migraine, stubbed toe, or sunburn, earache is one of those annoyances that is enough to make your day go from bad to worse. It’s irritating and impossible to ignore. Luckily, there are ways to avoid and treat earache, so you can minimise the chance of it interfering with your day.
Earache is generally more common in children but affects everyone at one point or another. Earache usually isn’t a sign of anything serious and is often a side effect of something else, such as a cold or flu.
What can cause earache in adults?
The most common cause of earache is the build-up of wax. Normally your ears can clean themselves out, but occasionally there may be a large amount of wax in your ear that gets stuck and gradually builds up. This can cause discomfort and possibly temporary hearing loss.
Luckily many pharmacies offer an ear wax removal service to safely remove the build-up of wax in your ear. Simply book an earwax removal service at your nearest pharmacy with Hey Pharmacist!
Your throat and ears are very close together, so if there is an issue with one, it can affect the other. This is the case with tonsillitis. When your tonsils swell up, the attacking bacteria can spread to your ear, causing uncomfortable ear pain. This should, however, ease as you recover.
Glue ear causes earache in a similar way to earwax. It is the build-up of fluid deep inside the ear that can make your ear feel blocked and hearing to sound like you’re underwater. This may occur after swimming or a shower. It’s best to avoid getting water directly into your ear to minimise the risk of glue ear.
Similar to how tonsillitis affects your ears, arthritis in the jaw can also cause earache. This is known as temporomandibular joint pain. Teeth grinding can cause similar issues.
Another mouth condition that impacts the ear is dental abscesses, a bacterial infection that can cause pain and throbbing in the mouth that can sometimes spread to the ear. You will need urgent care from your dentist if you’re experiencing symptoms of an abscess.
A burst or perforated eardrum is when something causes a hole or tear in your eardrum, the thin tissue separating your outer ear from your inner ear. When this bursts, possibly from sudden changes in air pressure (like on a plane) or loud noises, it can leave you with ear pain, dizziness, tinnitus, and hearing loss. Burst eardrums take about two months to heal.
What can cause earache in children?
If you see your baby rubbing their ear, it could be a sign that they’re teething. Teeth coming through for the first time can cause discomfort in the mouth and surrounding areas, such as the ear. But this should pass when their teeth come through.
Object stuck in their ear
Children get into all sorts of predicaments, one being getting objects lodged in places they shouldn’t be, such as the ear. If there is something stuck in your child’s ear, don’t try to remove it. It might come out naturally, or your GP may have to remove it via ear irrigation.
Ear infections are especially common in children and can cause symptoms such as high temperature, nausea, and pain or irritation in and around the ear. They are caused by bacteria or viruses getting into the middle of the ear and around the eardrum. An ear infection will usually go away on its own in a few days.
Earache and long COVID
Nowadays, if anyone experiences any sort of ache or pain, they automatically question if it’s a symptom of COVID-19. Earache isn’t a recognised symptom of COVID, however, you may experience some discomfort after the virus – known as long COVID, along with the possibility of tinnitus.
How to treat earache
Luckily, there are things you can do to speed up the process to make your ear infection go away. Including things you can do yourself, and how your pharmacy can help…
Painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen will help ease the pain of an earache and lower your temperature if you have an infection. You can access these at your local pharmacy, along with some professional advice.
Using a damp cloth can soothe your ear and help the infection go away, the moisture can soften anything inside the ear causing disturbances, making it easier for the infection to come out naturally.
Your local pharmacist may recommend acidic eardrops to stop bacteria and fungus from spreading and worsening, helping to make your ear infection go away.
Antibiotics usually aren’t recommended if you have an earache, but your GP may prescribe antibiotics if you have been suffering from an earache or an ear infection for a few days, or if there are other complications such as a weakened immune system (e.g. being on chemotherapy).
When should I contact my GP about earache?
Most of the time, you won’t need to contact or visit your GP about earache as it will usually clear up on its own after a couple of days. However, if symptoms persist, or you’re noticing fluid coming from your ear after a few days, it’s good to check just in case.
How your pharmacy can help with earache
Your pharmacy can help with earache by offering an ear wax removal service so that you can quickly and easily have your ear health checked, and have them cleaned if needed. Pharmacists are qualified to carry out this service, so you know you’re in safe hands.
Book your ear wax removal service in a few simple steps with Hey Pharmacist.
What not to do when you have an earache
When something as annoying as earache occurs, it’s almost irresistible to poke and prod at it in an attempt to make some sort of difference. However, certain things may make your earache worse, or even cause further damage to your eardrum and hearing.
Using cotton buds
Cotton buds are not to be used to remove earwax. Attempting to insert anything into your ear at home is not advised as you’re most likely just pushing the wax even further, making it more likely to cause more earache and hearing loss, and making it more difficult to remove.
Ear candling is the process of attempting to remove ear wax via the heat of a candle which is thought to create a vacuum that pulls out earwax. However, there is no scientific proof that this process works, and using a flame for medical purposes seems rather medieval if you ask us!
Spraying water, especially at high pressure, directly into your ear is unlikely to be an effective way to remove earwax. If anything, it’s more likely to cause glue ear and increase the pain.
How can you prevent earache?
In most circumstances, earache is unavoidable and is an unfortunate freebie included with other health conditions and illnesses. Nevertheless, there are ways to prevent earache from becoming a more consistent issue…
Keep objects away from your ear
Avoid having foreign objects close to your ears to both avoid them getting lodged and also to avoid any unwanted bacteria getting in your ears and increasing the risk of infection.
Give your ears attention in the shower
Ensure you wash your outer ear in the shower to kill off any bacteria before it causes any trouble, but avoid getting the water directly into your ear as that can cause more issues.
Smoking, or simply being around smoke, doesn’t do your ears any favours. Smoking can irritate and swell up the tubes that connect your nose to your middle ear, which can bring on some nasty pain and aching! So if you can, stop smoking!
Related: Tips to stop smoking
Avoid loud noises
Enjoy blasting music from your headphones? Maybe you should turn it down a tad. Long exposure to loud noises can risk damaging your eardrums and causing temporary, or possibly permanent, hearing loss.
Wear a hat or earmuffs
The sharp chill of the winter can take its toll on our exposed ears. Covering them up with a warm hat, earmuffs, or your hood keeps them protected in the frosty season. Just make sure that you keep your hats and earmuffs clean and dry to minimise bacteria.
Keep your hands clean
You use your hands all the time, so they get covered in bacteria from things you touch, which can easily be transferred to your face and ears. Washing your hands after you go to the toilet or touch food and animals makes sure that any unwanted germs don’t find their way into your ears.
Your pharmacist is always on hand to offer advice and support regarding your ear health. If you have any questions, simply pop in and ask! Don’t forget that you can book an ear health check at your pharmacy with Hey Pharmacist to safely have your ears checked and cleaned by your local healthcare professional.