Ear problems may be caused by many different health
problems. In children, ear pain is more likely to be a symptom of an
inflammation, infection, or fluid buildup in the external or middle ear. But
ear pain at any age may be a symptom of:
Atmospheric pressure changes (barotrauma) can cause
problems with the eustachian tube and trap air in or keep air out of the
middle ear. Middle ear problems can be severe (for example, the eardrum can
burst or the middle ear can fill with blood or pus) or mild and only be felt as
changes in pressure.
(dermatitis) on the outside of the ear or in the ear canal from perfume, hair
dye, or wearing hearing aids.
The ear shares nerves with other parts of the face, eyes, jaw,
teeth, and upper neck. Pain that feels as if it is in the ear may be coming
from another part of the head or neck. This is called
referred ear pain and is more common in older adults.
Causes of referred ear pain can include dental problems, jaw pain (temporomandibular disorder), salivary gland infection, or a sinus infection.
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it.
For adults and children age 12 and older, these are the ranges for high,
moderate, and mild, according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth) temperature
High: 104Â°F (40Â°C) and
Moderate: 100.4Â°F (38Â°C) to 103.9Â°F (39.9Â°C)
Mild: 100.3Â°F (37.9Â°C) and
A forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5Â°F (0.3Â°C) to 1Â°F (0.6Â°C) lower than an oral temperature.
Ear or rectal temperature
High: 105Â°F (40.6Â°C) and
Moderate: 101.4Â°F (38.6Â°C) to 104.9Â°F (40.5Â°C)
Mild: 101.3Â°F (38.5Â°C) and
Armpit (axillary) temperature
High: 103Â°F (39.5Â°C) and higher
Moderate: 99.4Â°F (37.4Â°C) to 102.9Â°F (39.4Â°C)
Mild: 99.3Â°F (37.3Â°C) and lower
Symptoms of an external ear infection
Moderate to severe pain in the outer
Pain with chewing.
Redness and swelling of the ear, ear canal, or the skin around
or behind the ear.
Vertigo is the feeling that you or
your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement. It may feel like
spinning, whirling, or tilting. Vertigo may make you sick to your stomach, and
you may have trouble standing, walking, or keeping your balance.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
If you’re not sure if a fever is high, moderate, or mild,
think about these issues:
With a high fever:
You feel very hot.
It is likely one of
the highest fevers you’ve ever had. High fevers are not that common, especially
With a moderate fever:
You feel warm or hot.
You know you have
With a mild fever:
You may feel a little warm.
you might have a fever, but you’re not sure.
Pain in adults and older children
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can’t stand it for more than a few hours, can’t sleep, and
can’t do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it’s severe when it’s
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Symptoms of a stroke may
Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis
in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
Sudden vision changes.
Sudden trouble speaking.
Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
Sudden problems with walking or balance.
severe headache that is different from past headaches.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
and arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t
have one, seek care today.
If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
seek care in the morning.
Home treatment may be all that is
needed to relieve minor or intermittent ear discomfort.
To ease ear pain, apply a warm washcloth. There may be some drainage from
the ear when the heat melts earwax.
Do not use a heating pad when you are in bed. You may fall asleep and burn yourself.
Do not use a heating pad on
Try an ice or cold pack to reduce swelling from a minor injury or sunburn. Apply
for 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a day during the first 48 hours after the injury.
The sooner you apply a cold pack, the less swelling you are likely to have.
Place a cloth between the ice and your skin.
Oral or nasal decongestants may relieve ear pain, especially if the
pain is related to fluid behind the eardrum (otitis media with effusion). Avoid products that contain antihistamines, which tend to
cause more blockage, unless allergies seem to be the problem.
Chewing gum may help relieve pressure changes
in the ear, such as when flying in an airplane.
nonprescription earwax remover if your ear feels plugged but you do not have
obvious signs of infection. Be sure to follow the label
Do not use ear candles. They have no proven benefit in the removal of earwax or the
treatment of other ear problems, and they can cause serious injury.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain: