Earache or ear pain can be sharp, piercing and very uncomfortable. Although painfully frustrating, many a times it may not be dangerous.
Earaches occur in all ages and many factors can be behind this. Common reasons ear infection, sinus infections, cavities, hole in the eardrum, ear wax, tonsillitis and fluid build up in the middle ear (1).
Other causes include the common cold, blockage in the nasal passage, physical damage to the inside of the ear, an increase in air pressure and so on. Earaches are more frequent in small children than adults.
The current trend in medicine is not to prescribe any antibiotics unless it is necessary to treat ear infections. Usually, the ear infection clears on its own within a few days (2).
Ear pain is a signal from the body that something is wrong. It is hence important to find the root of the problem or where the pain originates before finding a suitable remedy. After a careful evaluation, please try a remedy which corresponds to your problem.
A simple earache can be taken care of easily at home with natural remedies. It’s likely you’ll have one or more of these readily available in your kitchen.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for earaches.
Note: If you do not get relief using these home remedies or if you have fever accompanying the ear pain, pus or blood discharge from the ear, vertigo, increasing intensity of ear pain or hearing loss, please consult a doctor immediately.
1. Olive Oil and Tea Tree Oil
Olive oil can provide fast relief from an earache. Although there is no direct scientific evidence, a paper published in 2001 suggests that a naturopathic herbal ear drop with olive oil as the base was found to be comparable to anesthetic ear drops in relieving pain associated with acute otitis media (AOM) (3).
It serves as a lubricant and helps get rid of an infection in the ear.
Olive oil can also be helpful in stopping buzzing sensations inside the ears
It can be used in combination with tree tea oil to reduce earache. Tea tree oil is well known for its powerful antifungal, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties (4).
It has shown promising effect against several strains of bacteria. A 2005 study suggested the potential role of tea tree essential oil in combating external ear infections (5).
- Put 3 or 4 drops of lukewarm olive oil as ear drops into the ear canal once daily for a few days.
- Alternatively, you can dip a cotton bud in the oil and put it firmly into the ear.
- Another option is to add 2 or 3 drops of tea tree oil to 4 to 6 drops of lightly warmed olive oil. Put a few drops of this mixture into your ear using a clean cotton ball. Leave it for 5 to 10 minutes, then tilt your head down to drain out the oil.
You can also use mustard oil or coconut oil in the same way.
Garlic has both analgesic and antibiotic properties, which help reduce earache caused by an ear infection.
A study published in 2001 showed that a naturopathic medicine containing garlic worked as well as the standard ear drop medicine used to treat ear pain (3).
- Heat 1 teaspoon of minced garlic in 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. Cool and filter the oil. Put 2 or 3 drops of this garlic oil in the aching ear.
- Another option is to extract the juice out of a few cloves of garlic and put it into the ear that hurts.
You can also use olive or mustard oil to extract the garlic oil.
Onion is one of the most readily available home remedies for an earache. Onions have antibiotic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
They are rich in two types of compounds, flavonoids and alkenyl cysteine sulfoxides, which are responsible for the beneficial health properties of onion (6). Plus, the antiseptic and antibacterial properties in onions work well in treating the problem.
- Extract 1 tablespoon of onion juice from a grated onions and heat it over low heat. Then put 2 or 3 drops of the juice into affected ear 2 or 3 times a day.
- Crush a fresh onion and wrap it tightly in a piece of clean cloth. Hold the cloth over the infected ear for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this several times a day.
- Chop and microwave a small onion for 1 or 2 minutes. Strain the juice once it is cooled and place a few drops in the aching ear. Leave it for 10 minutes, then tilt your head and drain it out. Do this 1 or 2 times a day.
4. Hot/Cold Packs
Putting moist heat around an infected ear can work as a great pain reliever. You can use this for both adults and children, as this is a very safe remedy.
- Simply wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and press it against the aching ear for a few minutes.
- Ice packs can also be used for ear pain in the same way. Place an ice pack over the ear and press it over the affected ear for a few minutes.
- You can also place hot and cold packs alternately on the aching ear for 10 minutes.
Follow any of these remedies several times a day as needed.
Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory properties that can be helpful in treating ear infections. It is also an excellent natural painkiller.
Ginger oil is believed to have antioxidant properties (7). According to Ayurvedic system of medicine, warm ginger juice is used to treat ear pains.
- Extract juice from fresh ginger and put it into the outer ear canal but not directly inside the ear, to get relief from pain and reduce inflammation.
- Another option is to mix 1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger root in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Leave it to infuse for 5 to 10 minutes, then put a few drops of the oil in the aching ear.
You can follow either of these remedies 1 or 2 times a day.
Due to its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and analgesic properties, basil is considered good for relieving earaches.
This was substantiated by a paper published in 2005 that showed basil essential oil cured ear infection in 56 to 81 percent of the animals in an experimental model in comparison to that in the placebo group (8).
- Crush a few basil leaves and extract the juice.
- Put three or four drops of this juice in the aching ear.
- Repeat once or twice a day.
7. Chewing gum or Xylitol
If your ear pain is due to air pressure difference, like when you are in an airplane at high altitudes you can resolve your problem with an ordinary chewing gum.
Chewing or even yawning are very helpful in relieving the pressure in the middle ear. At times you can hear popping sounds from within your head which is due to the opening and closing of the eustachian tube attempting to equalize the pressure.
A review published in 2016 regarding xylitol, a natural sugar substitute containing gum, showed that when taken regularly it can prevent occurrence of middle ear infection in healthy children (9).
Even sucking a candy or feeding a bottle to an infant work in the same manner to ease the pain.
Salt can do wonders even for your ears! Salt has antimicrobial activity. So it can help.
- Put some salt in a spoon and heat it. Dip a cotton swab in this heated salt and place it in your aching ear for roughly 10 minutes. The salt will draw out the liquid and help reduce the swelling in your ears.
- You can also gargle with salt water to thin the thick fluid in the throat or even kill harmful bacteria and viruses during a throat infection accompanying earache. It can also help clear the eustachian tubes.
9. Bishop’s Weed
Bishop’s weed, also known as ajwain, is another effective natural cure for earaches as it has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties (10).
- Mix 1 teaspoon of Bishop’s weed oil with 3 teaspoons of sesame oil and warm it slightly. Put a few drops of the oil mixture in the affected ear. Do this once or twice a day.
- Alternatively, heat 2 teaspoons of mustard oil and add ½ teaspoon of Bishop’s weed and a couple of garlic flakes. Heat the mixture until the garlic turns red. Strain it and put a few drops of the oil in your ear as ear drops.
Follow either of these remedies once or twice a day.
10. Herbal Inhalation/Steam Inhalation
Applying moist heat using a steam inhaler or vaporizer can be a great way to reduce earache. You can also put your head under a warm shower. The moist air opens and relaxes the airways, thus relieving the pressure and earache.
Adding essential oils such as eucalyptus oil to the vaporizer makes it more effective in combating the ear pain (11).
You can put any of the essential oils mentioned above for this on a cotton ball and then place it at the mouth of the vaporizer or as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Here are 2 BONUS remedies for those who would like to explore more!
1. Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide has been used as a natural remedy for earaches for many years.
- Put a few drops of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide into the affected ear.
- Let it sit for several minutes before tilting your head and letting it drain into a sink.
- Rinse your ear with clean, distilled water.
2. Hair Dryer
After taking a shower or bath, do not towel dry your ears. Instead, use a blow dryer. Keep the dryer setting on warm and hold it slightly away from the ear. Let the warm air dry the moisture in your ear. Do not use the blow dryer for more than five minutes.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr Mukesh Edward, MBBS, MS (Otorhinolaryngology)
Can a sore throat lead to earache?
Yes. Earache or otalgia can be a symptom related to local/referred causes. For example, sore throat causing referred pain from throat may cause pain near the ear canal or pinna because throat and ear are supplied by the same cranial nerve. .
Can an earache cause vertigo?
Yes, vertigo can be associated with earache in conditions like Costen syndrome (defective bite or temperomandibular joint/jaw disorders). This is due to innervation by auriculotemporal branch of 5th cranial nerve. Jaw is supplied by mandibular branch of 5th nerve. As both ear and jaw are innervated through the common trunk centrally, the exact pathology is hard to locate. A poorly aligned jaw can put pressure on the balance maintaining organs in your inner ear causing vertigo or dizziness.
What is the most effective way to treat earache at home?
Earache needs urgent medical care, however, if for any reason you cannot get immediate medical care then you can try certain temporary but safe home remedies until you get proper medical attention.
- Apply a warm compress to soothe the pain.
- Another very effective option is to gently press the anterior/front of the ear with your index and middle fingers in a circular motion to activate some acupressure points for temporary relief.
- Steam inhalation, too, can help alleviate earache, especially if it is associated with sinuses and throat problems.
Why do some types of headache also cause earache?
Headache is a broad term. Some headaches are associated with TMJ disorders, cervical spine issues like spondylosis/caries spine, etc. External ear is also innervated by cervical nerves like greater auricular nerve (C2, C3 nerve roots) and lesser occipital nerve (C2 nerve root). Referred pain is possible from these sites. Examples of earache associated with headache are dental caries, sinusitis, masoiditis, migraine, temporal arteritis, extra dural abscess and ear malignancies.
Does applying cold or hot compress provide relief from earache?
Earache caused by an ear infection could be reduced by a warm compress, using a hot water bottle; a rice heating pack; or a warm, wet washcloth.
Can any underlying medical condition lead to earache?
Yes, there are local, systemic and referred causes. Referred causes are mentioned above. Some of the local causes are otitis externa (infection of external ear which is pinna, ear canal and tympanic membrane) due to bacterial/viral/fungal causes; malignant otitis externa (prone in people suffering from diabetes mellitus); and middle ear infection (otitis media, mastoiditis, choleasteatoma, etc). Some benign/malignant tumors or a condition called gouty tophi in the ear can also cause earache.
About Dr. Mukesh Edward, MBBS, MS: Dr. Edwards is a consultant ENT, Head and Neck Surgeon with special interest in vascular imaging. He completed his medical degree from University of Calicut and Master of Surgery from Yenepoya University, Mangalore, India.
Dr. Edwards attained post graduate diploma in general and vascular imaging from Australian School of Medical Imaging and Australasian Society of Ultrasound in Medicine, Sydney Australia. He has immense experience in managing emergency general and ENT cases.
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