Earache is extremely common in children and adults. It is usually caused by an inflammation or swelling of different parts of the ear, such as the external auditory canal, the tympanic membrane (ear drum) or the middle ear. In certain rare scenarios, an earache may also be a side effect of a throat infection.
Earache can usually be categorized as following:
- Otitis externa: This happens when there is an ear infection in the auditory canal (where ear wax usually forms). This is very common after taking a swim (especially in a public pool), hence it is also known as swimmer’s ear.
- Myringitis: This occurs when there is an inflammation on the tympanic membrane (ear drum).
- Otitis media:This happens when there is an infection on the eardrum and the middle ear. This is most common among infants and younger children, however, anyone is susceptible to it.
Causes of Earache
As earaches can be of different types, they have different causes as well.
Causes of Otitis Externa
The outer auditory canal can be infected because of a couple of different reasons:
- Minor scrape in the auditory canal: If there is a minor scrape in the auditory canal, it is susceptible to bacterial infection until the wound heals. It is usually caused when people do not follow some common-sense sanitary options while cleaning out their ear wax. (For example, although people know better, many tend to clean out their ear wax using sharp objects rather than a Q-tip or a similar product).
- Moisture in the ear canal: It is very common for water to enter the ear canal while bathing or swimming. However, if the water is not properly expelled, it makes the environment highly conducive for bacteria or even fungi (although rare) to thrive. Sometimes, just the moisture significantly disrupts our equilibrium and causes earaches. This symptom is also known as glue ear.
- Folliculitis: If the root (also known as the follicle) of a strand of hair growing in the ear canal becomes infected, it would lead to a painful condition known as folliculitis in the ear canal that may result in earache.
- Eczema: If the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis (more commonly known as eczema) shows up inside your ear canal, it can result in an earache as well.
Causes of Myringitis
The tympanic membrane may also be inflamed because of the following reasons:
- Local trauma: If the ear drum gets punctured due to external injury or by the use of unsanitary ear-cleaning habits, it can cause a significant amount of pain.
- Bullous myringitis: If left untreated, the infection from the ear canal may reach the ear drum as well. Sometimes the infections may directly originate from the ear drum itself! Either way, this may cause blisters being formed on the ear drum, (a condition known as bullous myringitis) which can be extremely painful.
- Blockage: If there is a buildup of ear wax that has not been cleaned periodically, it would put some pressure on the ear drum, which can lead to an earache.
Causes of Otitis Media
The middle ear can be inflamed due to a wide variety of reasons such as
- Throat infections (tonsillitis).
- Fluid build-up in the sinus cavities.
- Seasonal allergies.
- Tempomandibular joint pain, which causes pain in the jaw.
- Exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Bottle-feeding while lying flat.
- Genetic factors, that leads to abnormal anatomy in the middle ear.
- Wisdom teeth.
Effective Home Remedies for Earache
Unless caused by genetic abnormalities, most cases of earache can be treated by these common home remedies.
Garlic is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, which you can harness to create a highly effective topical remedy for earache. You would need the following ingredients:
- 5 finely chopped garlic cloves
- ½ a cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 20 drops of eucalyptus essential oil.
Once you have gathered the ingredients, you need to implement the following steps:
- Place garlic and olive oil in a saucepan and let it simmer for about eight minutes at very low heat.
- Strain the garlic cloves out of the liquid. Squeeze really hard on the cloves to ensure that you extract as much of the garlic essence as you possibly can.
- Add the eucalyptus oil and mix it thoroughly.
Now that you have prepared the treatment, following is how you would apply it:
- Take a glass eyedropper and place it under a stream of hot water for one minute. This is done to heat the dropper.
- Dry it quickly, to retain as much of the heat as possible.
- Pour two drops of the liquid in every ear.
The above treatment can be applied as frequently as needed, even if each application is only thirty minutes apart. The sufferer may find some relief anywhere between two to seven days.
Consuming foods that are rich in garlic will also fortify your body internally against earaches. Asian and Indian cuisines make liberal use of garlic in most of their preparations.
- Hydrogen Peroxide
One of the most popular methods of treating earaches is also one of the most effective home remedies for the same, especially if it is caused by a bacterial infection. The 5% solution of hydrogen peroxide available at your local drugstore is perfectly safe for your ear canal and the tympanic membrane, but is absolutely toxic for the bacteria that is causing the earache. Following is how you would apply the treatment.
- Pour adequate amount of a 5% solution of hydrogen peroxide in a bowl.
- Soak a cotton ball in the peroxide.
- Squeeze a few drops of the peroxide in the ear canal. Let it stay there for a minute and then let it pour out naturally.
- Repeat the above steps for the other ear.
If used too often, even the highly diluted peroxide may be a little caustic for the ear canal. Hence refrain from using this treatment for more than once a day.
Please note that hydrogen peroxide is also useful for softening earwax.
- Hot Compresses
If there is an inflammation in the ear, it can put pressure on your blood vessels, impeding blood flow. This causes a build-up, which then manifests in the form of an earache. By applying hot compresses, you help dilate the blood vessels, which would lower the blood pressure and aid the flow of blood into and out of the affected area.
There are several ways you can apply this treatment. You can use a heating pad or a hot water bottle. You may even immerse a washcloth in hot water and apply that (after you wring it and get rid of the excess moisture, of course).
One can even use the heat from a blow dryer for similar effect. However, while using a blow dryer, the following safeguards needs to be kept in mind:
- It should be set at the lowest ‘heat’ setting possible.
- Make sure that the nozzle of the blow dryer is at least ten inches away from the ear cavity.
- Do not apply it for more than five minutes at a time.
- Cold Compresses
If you are suffering from earaches due to seasonal allergies, then using a cold compress may provide you with some relief. Allergens trigger our immune system to produce histamines, which causes what is known as an ‘allergic reaction’, which would be an earache in this case. The cold from a cold compress constricts blood vessels, thus reducing the amount of histamines that reaches the inflamed area, providing some relief from the earache.
You can use a traditional ice-pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or you may even wrap some ice cubes in a washcloth and apply it on the affected area. However, you need to make sure that:
- None of the water or moisture enters the ear canal, as it may cause symptoms of glue ear.
- The skin does not come in direct contact with the ice cubes.