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woman grabbing her check in pain

An earache is usually caused by one of two ailments: a cold or an ear infection. In order to be able to tell if your earache is due to a cold or an ear infection, read the symptoms of each below and consult with a physician:


The earache caused by a cold is usually characterized by a sharp, dull, or burning pain inside the ear that can range from mild to very painful. This is caused by fluid trapped in the ear, which puts pressure on the eardrum. The fluid inside the ear is not infected.

Earaches caused by a cold usually go away on their own.

In young children, an earache from a cold may cause them to have difficulty sleeping, as well as run a fever and secrete yellow mucus from the nose.

Ear Infection

An infection of the middle ear, also known as otitis media, can cause the following symptoms:

  • Extreme earache, which decreases in time as the eardrum stretches enough to adjust for the pressure inside the ear
  • Irritability
  • Fever as high as 104 degrees F
  • Vertigo
  • Yellow, brown, white, or bloody fluid seeping from the ear, which may indicate that the eardrum was ruptured
  • Fluid build-up can prevent the eardrum to function properly and therefore decrease hearing ability
  • Poor sleep due to increased pain when laying down
  • In young children, loss of appetite might be a symptoms of an ear infection

Nowadays, earaches and ear infections can be treated and permanent damage to the ear is uncommon. The following are the most widely used treatments for earaches:

  • Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are usually used to relieve an earache as well as fevers over 102 degrees F.
  • In case of an ear infection, antibiotics are usually prescribed to kill the bacteria causing the ear infection.
  • If, after having treated the ear infection, fluid remains inside the ear for more than three months or if a person has recurrent ear infections, ear tubes might be prescribed. This procedure is usually done on children and helps keep the ear free of fluid by inserting metal or plastic tubes through the eardrum. The tubes remain in the ear for about a year and usually fall out on their own.

Consult with a physician to determine the cause of your earache and the proper treatment.