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Pain in the Ears

By Bjarne Lühr Hansen PhD, MD and Philipp Skafte-Holm MD, Mentor Institute

With children, pain in the ears are often caused by inflammation of the middle ear, while it is often a sign of inflammation of the ear canal (otitis) or impacted ear wax with adults.

Inflammation of the middle ear is a very common illness with children in the age from 6 months to 3 years. The illness especially occurs as a complication to common cold. A connection between the nose and the middle ear functions as a valve to regulate the pressure in the middle ear. In the case of common cold, influenza or inflammation of nose and throat, mucous membranes swell up closing the valve. This can cause inflammation of the middle ear.

In lighter cases, there is only the sensation of stuffiness and light pain in the ear. In severe cases, the pains are significant and the child often cries inconsolably. In the most severe cases, there is high fever. Typically, the pain are worst during the night when the child lies down with the head low.

With some children, the eardrum bursts and pus – possibly mixed with blood – leaks from the ear canal. When the ear canal leaks from the ear the child has healed itself. With almost all children the hole closes by itself in the course of a few days without any damage to the hearing.

Adults can have inflammation of the middle ear but pain in the ears with adults is often sign of otitis. In the case of otitis, it may be itchy and a little fluid may leak from the ear. The pain is worsened when you pull the ear up or down. Another cause of pain in the ear with adults can be impacted earwax. In this case, the hearing is reduced.


To soothe the pain in the ear, you can take painkilling medication like fore example paracetamol. The dosage is on the packaging. In the most cases, inflammation of the middle ear requires no treatment with penicillin because it passes by itself. If the eardrum has burst and pus leaks from the ear for more than 3 days, it can help giving the child eardrops. You must consult the doctor about this. Otitis can be treated with eardrops you can buy on prescription. In the case of pain in the ear, you can use painkilling medication.

What can you do?

You can soothe the child’s nuisances by making sure that the child’s head is elevated when it sleeps: you can raise the bedhead with 15 to 20 cm with cushions or other. It is a good idea for both adults and children to take painkilling medication.

Contact the doctor tomorrow

If the child still has pain in the ears and fever after 3 to 4 days. If fluid leaks from the ear for more than 3 days. If the adult continues to have pain after taking painkilling medication.

Contact the doctor immediately

It is rarely necessary to contact the doctor immediately. If the child is drowsy (lies completely still and does not want to hear stories or play), you should contact the doctor immediately.