How can I relieve earache?

Earache can be symptomatic of a disorder of the ear itself. It can also be related to a disorder of a nearby organ. The cause of earache must be found to cure the underlying disorder. However, some medicines exist to alleviate pain as a first step, such as paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or certain analgesic ear drops. Note that in the case of a perforated eardrum the use of a liquid solution is contraindicated. Ask a specialist for advice.

Earache, also known as "otalgia", can be symptomatic of a variety of conditions. Apart from treating the underlying cause, can we relieve this pain? How? 

Ear pain: what are the causes?

Earache, also known as "otalgia" in the ENT language, is a frequent reason for consultation. Oppressive, pulsing, throbbing... This pain can be intense and really troubling. If it has persisted for 2 to 3 weeks, the pain is said to be chronic. If it's more recent, we refer to acute pain.(1)

There are two types of earache:

Otodynia, which is pain related to the outer middle ear

Otodynia is symptomatic of a disorder of the ear itself: the auricle, the external auditory canal (EAC) and the middle ear may be involved.2 Earache may result from several ear diseases , including wax impaction and different types of ear infections.

One of the causes of earache is inflammation of the EAC. The canal consists of smooth, dry skin adhering to the membrane that surrounds the bone, called the periosteum3. In the case of inflammation, the EAC tissue will form an oedema4: as it swells, it will stretch the periosteum. As this membrane is very sensitive, it can be very painful.

Reflex or projected otalgia, which is a consequence of a disorder of a nearby organ 

Reflex or projective otalgia can result from a disorder of the throat, sinuses, nose or temporomandibular joint, since these different parts of the body share the same nerves to the brain as the ear.(1)(2)

Finally, depending on the cause of otalgia, other concomitant symptoms may be observed: feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear, itching in the external auditory canal, hearing loss, otorrhea, dizziness...5 These need to be identified to determine the origin of the earache.

How do I relieve earache?

Note that the following information is not a substitute for the advice of a pharmacist or a consultation with a specialist. Feel free to discuss this with your doctor.

Defining the underlying cause of earache is essential for choosing the right treatment. The solution should therefore relieve the symptoms of the original pathology, and thus relieve the otalgia! However, it is possible, as a first step, to relieve earache with certain medicines. The following can be considered:

  • Analgesics such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, taken orally. These can help with pain control(1),
  • Treatments for topical use, i.e. ones that act only at the point of application. Certain analgesic ear drops can be used.(1)

If the pain is characteristic of inflammation, accompanied by itching and swelling in the external auditory canal, suitable products are available in pharmacies.

How can I prevent earache? 

Whatever method is used to relieve otalgia, it cannot be effective in the long term without taking certain preventive steps. Some recommendations:

  • Adopt a regular ear cleaning routine,
  • Avoid inserting an object into the external auditory canal6: it's better to: clean your ears without cotton buds
  • Be careful when it comes to the frequent use of shampoos, soaps and gels in contact with the ears,
  • Dry your ears well after swimming, to avoid swimmer's ear ,
  • Prepare for pressure changes, especially when flying or diving,
  • Be vigilant when using earplugs and in-ear headphones, and also when using headphones if you wear them for extended periods of time,
  • Protect your ears from noise as much as possible.


(1) MSD ; Douleurs auriculaires ; David M. Kaylie MS, MD, Duke University Medical Center. 2019’oreille/symptômes-des-maladies-de-l’oreille/douleurs-auriculaires
(2) « Otalgie : conduite à tenir » ; C. Bodénez chef de clinique des Universités, assistant des Hôpitaux, F. Tankéré maître de conférence des Universités, praticien hospitalier. 2008
(3) Service ORL du CHU d’Angers (consulté le 28/10/20)
(4) Futura Santé : inflammation, définition. (consulté le 28/10/20)
(5) Santé par mediscope : « Maux d’oreille » Dr. Méd. Fritz Grossenbacher, Doris Zumbühl consulté le 28/10/20)
(6) Justin O. Sevy; Anumeha Singh. Cerumen Impaction. 2017