Ear Pain Relief: Medications, Drops, Surgeries & Self-Care Tips

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If you’re experiencing ear pain, you likely want relief fast.

Learn more about how to get rid of ear pain, including what medications (such as ear drops), self-care tips and surgeries may help, depending on the cause of your ear pain.

What is ear pain?

Ear pain can be:

  • Achy

  • Dull

  • Sharp

  • Tender

It may be mild or severe, depending on the cause.

Ear pain causes

“The most common cause of ear pain is an outer or external ear infection, or an otitis media, or middle ear infection, or fluid,” said Dr. Matthew Shew, an assistant professor of otolaryngology and neurotology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that ear infections are less common in adults than they are in children.

Shew explained that sometimes your ear may hurt not because there’s something wrong with the ear itself, but because of referred pain.

“Referred pain is from a problem with a nearby part of your body such as your throat, jaw or teeth,” he said. “You should seek further evaluation if your pain persists beyond standard treatment.”

Other causes of ear pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic, include:

  • Foreign object (a tiny object like a pebble in your ear)

  • Pressure change (that fullness or pain you might feel when you’re scuba diving or on a plane in the air)

  • Sinus or upper respiratory infection

  • Sore throat

  • Swimmer’s ear

  • TMJ, or temporomandibular joint dysfunction (problems with your jaw joint)

Ear pain symptoms

If you have ear pain, you may also experience the following symptoms, says Johns Hopkins Medicine:

  • Balance problems (rare)

  • Drainage (green or yellow liquid that comes out of your ear)

  • Fever

  • Muffled hearing

  • Sore throat

“When a patient with a painful ear also has a fever, that’s a concern something bigger is going on,” Shew said. “Other big red flags that someone should seek more urgent attention include dizziness, headaches, swelling and weakness of the facial muscles. Otherwise, it’s worth going to an urgent care or seeing your primary care provider if the pain doesn’t get better within 24 to 48 hours.”

Ear pain treatments: How to get relief

When you’re uncomfortable, all you want to know is how to get rid of ear pain. Ear pain relief starts with self-care. You can also try some medications (ear drops). If there is a major issue with your ear, or another part of your body that’s causing referred pain in your ear, you may need surgery.

Self-care tips

The Cleveland Clinic recommends these self-care options for ear pain:

  • Cold compress

  • Hot compress

  • Neck stretching, rotating (moving your neck in a circular motion)

  • Over-the-counter pain reliever (acetaminophen or ibuprofen)

  • Sleeping on the opposite side of the painful ear

  • Sleeping with your ears up higher than the rest of your body

To help prevent ear pain in the first place, Shew recommends that you avoid smoking, keep objects out of your ears, keep your ears dry after swimming and bathing, and avoid allergy triggers.

Medications/ear drops

You may need antibiotics that you swallow and some medications that go inside your ear canal.

Your doctor may want you to use ear drops to stop pain, and numbing drops for inflammation (swelling) and pain, the Cleveland Clinic advises.

When you use ear drops, make sure you stay positioned with your ear pointed toward the ceiling for about three to five minutes, the American Academy of Family Physicians warns in an article about swimmer’s ear. Move your head gently back and forth to help the ear drops enter and move through your ear canal.

Surgery options that may help with ear pain

You may need surgery, depending on the cause of your ear pain.

Repeated ear infections are one reason for surgery. You may also need surgery, what is known as a tympanoplasty, if you have an ear infection that won’t go away or if there’s a hole in your eardrum.

Talk to your doctor about how often you have ear pain, how severe it gets and what causes the problem. They may need to do extra tests to see if you need surgery.

Living with ear pain

When it’s severe, all you can think about is how to stop ear pain. Fortunately, ear pain is usually temporary. You won’t have to live with it for long.

Remember that if your ear pain doesn’t go away after a day or two, see your primary care physician or head to an urgent care clinic. Then, go back if the medications don’t fix your symptoms after a week.


Matthew Shew, MD, assistant professor, otology and neurotology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis

American Academy of Family Physicians: Acute Otitis Externa (Swimmer’s Ear)

Cleveland Clinic: Earache (Ear Pain, Otalgia)

Cleveland Clinic: 3 Home Remedies for an Ear Infection

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Middle-Ear Infection in Adults

What This Means For You

Ear pain can be excruciating. Here's how to figure out what's causing it and how to get relief.

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