Adult Earache – Causes and Symptoms

Kids are expected to get an earache or 2 over time, and with or without antibiotics (see Which is Better, Treat an Ear Infection with Antibiotics or Let it Heal on Its Own? ) the earache will usually fade within a few days with no permanent damage. Usually, it’s just a child’s growing body learning to gain immunity against bacterial infections that cause earaches to begin with, or sensitive young ear canals reacting to environmental issues as they grow. But what about when an adult gets an earache? What causes an earache in an adult? What are the symptoms? And, most importantly, where’s the relief?

An adult earache is most commonly caused as a secondary infection from a cold or flu symptom an adult already has. Once the other infection fades, voila- so does the earache. However, adults who smoke are more prone for an ear infection that causes the ear to ache without another infection causing it than adults who do not smoke. A cold, sinus infection, or tonsillitis can cause an earache in an adult.

Symptoms of an earache in an adult include pain in the ear, excess fluid and earwax leaving the ear, ringing in the ear, or pain when pulling the earlobe slightly or when touching the space behind the earlobe on the neck. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, pain in the ear when chewing or swallowing, or a headache along with a painful earache can occur as well.

The earache should fade on its own without antibiotics within 24 hours or so, or as soon as the cold or sinus infection fades. If the earache is caused by secondary means (such as a cold or flu) then medications to treat the other infection should treat the earache as well. A heating pad on the ear can help relieve the pain of an earache, as can over-the-counter medications. Showering rather than bathing to prevent water getting in the ear and causing fluid buildup (and a bacteria breeding ground) can help prevent earaches in adults, and make the pain of an earache more bearable.

More serious earaches in adults require antibiotics and a trip to the doctor. If you experience dizziness, hearing loss, intense pain where you cannot eat, sleep, or function normally, if your earache includes loss of balance or blood coming from the ear, or if you cannot find any form of relief within 24 hours (even minor improvement) from your earache, then see your doctor to rule out infection and other issues. While an earache as an adult is common (almost as much as in children), and usually not a real concern, sometimes it’s a major issue that needs medical intervention. Don’t wait to get help if your earache is severe, or a major concern to you.


personal experience with cold-induced earache

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