NHS Pharmacy First Service in England, receive advice & treatment for seven common health conditions32

From understanding the causes of earaches, treatment & knowing how pharmacists can help, Boots has got you covered

What is earache?

Earaches are common, especially in children. They can be a burning, sharp or dull ear pain that either comes and goes or is constant. It can affect one ear or both.

Illustration of the outer, middle and inner ear
What causes earaches?

Earaches can be caused by different things. Some of the most common causes include:

• Ear infections

• Glue ear

• Damage to the ear

• Earwax or an object in the ear

• Throat infections

• Jaw problems

• Dental abscesses

Ear infections

Infections in the ear, whether in the outer (tube connecting the outer ear and eardrum) or middle ear (behind the ear drum), can cause pain in the ear. These infections are often caused by bacteria or viruses. There may be a watery or pus-like fluid coming out of the ear.

Glue ear

Glue ear is common in children. It presents as a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum. This accumulation can cause discomfort, hearing problems and a feeling of fullness in the ear. It can often resolve on its own but can take a few months. In some cases, you might need to speak to your GP, especially if your child is showing signs of hearing problems.

Damage to the ear

Earache can sometimes be caused by an injury to the inside of the ear, for example by poking a cotton bud too far into your ear. The ear canal is a very sensitive part of the body so it can become damaged easily. The ear should heal on its own without treatment, but it can take up to two months for a perforated eardrum to heal. If you have a perforated eardrum, eardrops shouldn't be used.

Impacted earwax or an object in the ear

The ear naturally produces wax to protect the ear canal, but excessive earwax can accumulate and become impacted which can cause pressure and pain in the ear. If there’s something in you or your child’s ear that seems to be causing an earache, don’t try and remove it yourself. Trying to remove the earwax or foreign objects from the ear yourself can make it worse, potentially causing damage.

Throat infections

Sore throats from infections like tonsilitis or quinsy (an abscess on side of the back of your throat) can occasionally cause an earache. This is because the ear, nose and throat are connected. Some infections will clear up after a few days without antibiotics, but if you have quinsy, speak to your GP as soon as possible.

Jaw problems

Earaches can sometimes be caused by problems with your jawbone joint (where the jaw meets the skull). This can be caused by arthritis or teeth grinding. Pain relief can often help jaw pain, along with warm and cold compresses.

Dental abscesses

A dental abscess is caused by a bacterial infection. It’s a collection of pus in your teeth or gums which causes pain which can spread to the ear. If you think you have a dental abscess, make a dentist appointment as soon as you can.

How long does can earache last?

How long an earache lasts can vary. It depends on the cause of the earache, but most will get better in a few days without treatment.

Earaches in children

Earaches are common in children. They are often caused by an ear infection which usually starts to improve in a couple of days.

Some children may have difficulty expressing their discomfort verbally. It’s important to recognise some of the common signs of earaches which can include if they:

• Rub or pull their ear

• Don’t react to some sounds

• Have a fever (a temperature of 38C or above)

• Are restless or irritable

• Have lost their appetite or are off their food

• Keep losing their balance

Treating earaches at home: Dos & Don’ts

If you or your child have an earache, it’s not always necessary to speak to your GP. The pain usually improves in a few days and there are things you can do which can help provide relief.


• Use over-the-counter pain relief. Make sure to use child-suitable pain relief if giving to your children. Children under 16 shouldn’t take aspirin. Some painkillers aren’t safe for everyone, so it’s important to check the patient information leaflet and read the label before taking them

•  Place a warm or cold flannel against the ear which hurts, you can also use a warm or cold flannel

• Stay in an upright position when you can and lay your head higher in bed as this can help to keep the tubes around the ears open


• Put anything inside the ear like cotton buds

• Try to remove the earwax

• Let water get inside the ear

How can a pharmacist help?

Under the new NHS Pharmacy First Service*, our pharmacists are now equipped to provide even more support for your earache concerns. 

No appointment is needed, and we can offer advice and treatment, including certain prescription medicines where appropriate, for individuals aged one to 17 years who live in England. It's a convenient option to address minor health concerns without the need for a GP visit. 

Our pharmacists can guide you on:

• How you can treat your earache yourself at home

• If you can buy anything to help like pain relief

• If you need any over-the-counter eardrops like the Cl-ear Pain Relief Ear Drops which can relieve pain and itching in adults, the elderly and children over six months. Please read the label before using

• If you need to see a GP

Although earaches often resolve by themselves, there are some cases you might need to speak to your GP.

You need to speak to your GP if you or your child:

• Have earache for more than three days

• Keep getting earache

You need to ask for an urgent GP appointment or speak to NHS 111 if you or your child have earache and:

• Become generally unwell

• Have a fever or feel hot and shivery

• Swelling around the ear

• Fluid coming from the ear

• Hearing loss or a change in hearing

• Something stuck in the ear

• Your child is under two and has earache in both ears

• Vomiting

• A severe sore throat

It's crucial to seek immediate medical attention at A&E if you notice:

• Signs of meningitis

• Pain, soreness, swelling, tenderness behind the affected ear(s)

• Severe headache, confusion or irritability, muscle weakness

• Headache behind or around the eyes

• Facial nerve paralysis

Keep in mind that our pharmacists can play a crucial role in addressing earache issues for individuals aged one to 17 years under our Pharmacy First scheme. However, certain exclusions apply, such as recurrent acute earaches (three or more episodes in the last 12 months) and pregnant women under 16 years.

Head to your local Boots pharmacy today, and let our expert pharmacists assist you with your earache.

Please note, during busier periods, a pharmacist may not be available and waiting times can vary.

*Supply of treatment is subject to a suitability assessment. In most stores in England only. Subject to availability and store opening hours. Charges may apply.

32Supply of treatment is subject to a suitability assessment. In most stores in England only. Subject to availability and store opening hours. Charges may apply.