Why Your Earache Might Be More Serious Than You Think

For most adults, it's probably been a little while since you last experienced an earache. Maybe it conjures up memories of childhood and being curled up in bed with a warm rag held up to your ear. This would make sense, seeing as children are among those most susceptible to earaches. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that 5 out of every 6 children are likely to experience an ear infection by the time they turn 3.

But what about adults? Are earaches as common for adults as they are for children, and at what point is an earache cause for concern? In adults, earaches may occur for any number of reasons, such as from an inner ear infection, altitude changes, allergies, water trapped in the ear, injury, or pain from nearby areas such as the jaw, throat, or teeth (via University Hospitals). An earache is characterized by painful sensations of pressure in the ear, the severity of which can vary.

While the physical discomfort of an earache is bad enough, earaches accompanied by additional symptoms should not be ignored.

Consult with a doctor if your earache has these symptoms

It is not uncommon for adults with earaches to also experience muffled hearing loss, fluid drainage, and general feelings of sickness, according to MedicineNet. Oftentimes, more mild causes of ear pain can be remedied without medical intervention. For example, an earache caused by air pressure changes while in flight can be relieved by "popping" one's ears by yawning, chewing gum, or swallowing to restore the balance of pressure in the inner ear. Additionally, over-the-counter kits are available to help break up mild earwax buildup.

However, earaches in adults that occur alongside a high fever, rash, sore throat, or severe pain can be more serious (via MedicineNet). Earaches that either worsen or do not lessen within 1-2 days should be examined by a doctor, per Premier Health. Those with ear pain that stops abruptly should also seek medical attention, as this can indicate a potential eardrum rupture. Earaches in combination with additional symptoms can also be a sign of certain health conditions. For example, ear and throat pain may be the result of tonsillitis or strep throat. In severe cases, earaches may be due to the presence of a tumor or cellulitis.

A mild earache can often be treated with rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, and the use of a cold compress while keeping yourself propped upright (via Premier Health). Be on the lookout for earaches accompanied by more unusual symptoms, and be sure to reach out to your doctor for treatment.