If you or a whānau member has earache, you may have pain that is sharp, dull, or throbbing. You may also have muffled hearing or a feeling of pressure or blockage.

Common causes of earache

Common causes of earache include:

  • an ear infection
  • a throat, nose or mouth infection
  • a build-up of ear wax
  • changes in altitude or air pressure, for example when an aeroplane lands
  • an object, growth, or insect in the ear
  • a disease of the gland in front of the ear, for example mumps.
The ear canal is very delicate. It is never a good idea to put anything in you ear that has not been prescribed.

Earache in tamariki

Earaches are common in tamariki (children).

If your child has an earache, they may:

  • tug or rub on the painful ear
  • have fever, dizziness, nausea or vomiting.


The usual cause of earache in tamariki is middle ear infection (or otitis media). The infection often begins as a cold, sinus infection or throat infection. Bacteria enter the child’s nose or throat then travel up the tubes to their ear. They begin to feel pain as their eardrum becomes swollen and red, and fluid builds up in the air space behind the eardrum.

Earaches in adults

Adults also get ear infections, but not as commonly as tamariki.

Middle ear infections in adults may cause earaches, hearing loss and a feeling of blockage in the ear.

When to get medical advice

See your healthcare provider if you or a whānau member — especially a child — has earache.

They may prescribe medicines to treat the cause of the earache. Sometimes a medical procedure or surgery may be needed.

Get back to your healthcare provider quickly if you have:

  • new discharge from your ear canal
  • dizziness, nausea, vomiting or vertigo
  • a severe headache, stiff neck or really bad pain in the ear.

If you are not sure what to do, call Healthline 0800 611 116

Self care for earache

As well as seeing your healthcare provider try the following.

  • A warm face cloth, wheat bag or covered hot water bottle held against your affected ear may help relieve the discomfort.
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain or fever. Follow the directions given by your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
  • Lie with the affected ear away from your pillow, propped up on 1 to 2 pillows.
  • If your ear is discharging, gently wash the outer ear with soap and a face cloth. See your healthcare provider.
  • Do not use eardrops unless your healthcare provider tells you to.
Last updated: