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How do you know if ear pain is serious enough to see a doctor?

Earache is a common problem, particularly in children. It can be worrying, but it’s usually caused by a minor infection and will often get better in a few days without treatment. 

What are the signs and symptoms of earache?

Earache can be a sharp, dull, or burning pain in the ear that comes and goes or is constant. You may get pain in one or both ears. Common symptoms that may accompany ear pain or earaches are:

  • Feeling pressure in the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Fever or high temperature
  • Feeling ill
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • In children, irritability or pulling, touching, or hugging of the ear or both ears
  • Sore throat
  • A lack of balance

What causes ear pain or ear infection?

Ear pain or ear infection are caused by bacteria and viruses. Many times, an ear infection begins after a cold or other respiratory infection. 

  • Inner ear infection: the inner ear can become swollen due to respiratory illnesses providing viral or bacterial ear infections and inflammation of the inner ear can impact your balance. This type of ear infection can begin quickly and become quite intense.
  • Middle ear infection: this is a sudden ear infection that develops quickly and gets better in a few days. It is caused by inflammation and a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum and usually occurs with or shortly after a cold or other respiratory infection. 
    • Blockage of the Eustachian tube: this is the canal that connects your middle ear to your throat and infections like cold, flu, or allergies can cause the Eustachian tube to become swollen or blocked. 
  • Outer ear infection (swimmers’ ear): this is an infection of the ear canal and is caused by too much moisture in the ear canal or by inserting something deep into the ear. These are very common in the warm, summer months but can occur at any time of year.

Other common causes of ear pain or infection are air pressure changes, buildup of earwax, or reactions to tobacco smoke. 

When to seek medical treatment?

Consider talking to a primary or urgent care provider about your symptoms and options for treatment if:

  • Symptoms show no signs of improvement over two to three days
  • Infection is recurring
  • Pain is severe
  • Other symptoms of being unwell, apart from the earache are persistent
  • You have discharge from your ears such as blood or pus

Don’t ignore ear pain

Untreated ear pain may lead to complications. If you need medical assistance, Exemplar Care is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

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