Otalgia and earache

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What is otalgia?

Otalgia or ear pain is a condition that can occur anywhere in the inner, middle or outer ear.

Its occurrence is not necessarily related to a specific disease or infection, so first of all, it is best to have a specialist diagnose it.

The intensity of ear pain can vary from very light to very intense, depending mainly on the causative factor.

What causes ear pain?

There is a wide range of potential causes. However, starting with an ear disease that always causes discomfort: otitis.

In addition to this, it can also be caused by:

  • Multiple types of allergies.
  • Prolonged episodes of severe coughing.
  • Various diseases of the teeth and jaw.
  • Inflammation or closure of the Eustachian tube.
  • Obstruction of the ear canal by water, foreign objects or earwax.
  • Herpes zoster.
  • Inflammation of the parotid gland due to mumps.
  • lesions of the eardrum
  • Freezing of the pinna at very low temperatures.
  • cancerous conditions in nearby organs
  • Drastic changes in atmospheric pressure.
  • Headache

How does otalgia manifest itself?

The pain may only affect the ear or it may spread to the surrounding region, to the jaw, or, more generally, to the entire side of the head of the affected ear. Ear pain usually begins abruptly and suddenly with peaks of sharp pain alternating with moments of simple discomfort and is often accompanied by even a very high fever.

In babies

The baby may experience sudden attacks of inconsolable crying and decreased appetite (due to pain caused by sucking during breastfeeding). Older children may point to the affected ear and complain of decreased hearing or distortion of sound. Ear pain is usually attributed to inflammatory (e.g. ear infections) or traumatic (e.g. barotrauma) diseases.

Without fever

In cases of ear pain not accompanied by fever, as sometimes occurs after a bath or after being in the sea or in a swimming pool, the affected site is the outer ear and the infectious process is most often determined by bacteria. In this case, the pain is associated with itching.

With fever

In case of fever, nasal congestion and pain, the symptoms can be determined by otitis media. In this case, the pain is caused by the pressure of mucus or purulent material on the tympanic membrane. If, as a result of excessive pus pressure, the membrane is perforated, fluid mixed with blood may be seen coming out of the ear canal with a clear reduction of pain. In this case, the ear canal is gently plugged, the ear should not be moistened with water and the child should be taken to a specialist. The tympanic membrane usually reconstitutes itself spontaneously within a week without consequences.

Catarrhal otitis media

In cases of catarrhal otitis media, often bilateral, pain is poor or absent, the child will seem distracted and will tend to ask to repeat words. It is often caused by an infection that, from the throat or nose, invades the Eustachian tube, a small canal that connects the nose to the middle ear, and consequently spreads into the ear. Catarrhal otitis media is frequently found in children, especially within the first 7 years of life, and then disappears by the age of 14.

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Treatment of otalgia

The treatment of ear pain will always depend on the diagnosed cause. Not only should the pain be relieved, but the causative disease should also be cured.

  • If the doctor determines that the origin of the earache is an inflammation of the pinna, it can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics.
  • If the earache is caused by inflammation of the middle ear, a combination of analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs, including antibiotics when infection is present, is most often recommended under observation.
  • Finally, if the earache is due to inflammation of the ear canal, anti-inflammatory ear drops together with antibiotics will help to improve the symptoms significantly.

Medicines for otalgia

Most of all forms of earache tend to be resolved with the correct therapy (antibiotics, corticosteroids, mucolytics), in the remaining 10% there may be a tendency for the infectious event to recur and become chronic (type of pathogen, anatomical conformation of the ear, presence of adenoids, recurrent tonsillitis, etc.). 

In cases of ear pain, the otolaryngologist will be the medical professional who will prescribe the appropriate medication for each case.

Ear drops

In the presence of otitis externa, antibiotic therapy in the form of ear drops in the external auditory canal is the most commonly prescribed by medical professionals.

During the inflammatory phase, it is essential not to wet the ear with water (e.g. while showering, in the swimming pool or in the sea). In otitis media, the association of antibiotics, mucolytics and, in some cases, cortisone therapy for a correct resolution of the pathology.

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We take the time to understand your hearing health and the impact it’s having on your life and the people closest to you. With approximately 200 Amplifon clinics in the UK, we can ensure that we can support you when you need us most. Whether you need a FREE hearing test, or a hearing aid adjustment, our audiologists will provide you with expert, professional advice.

When should I consult a doctor?

It is always recommended to consult a specialist. Depending on the case, the doctor may have to intervene to remove fluids, such as pus, that are blocking the ear.

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