Home Remedies for Ear Pain

Medically Reviewed by Shruthi N, MD on June 19, 2024
7 min read

Ear pain affects a lot of people. It’s one of the most common reasons people see their primary care doctor. But while it’s uncomfortable, it’s usually not dangerous. In fact, most cases of ear pain can be treated at home.

Here are some easy home remedies for ear pain and advice on when you need to see your doctor.

If you have ear pain, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about it.

There’s little research to say whether or not home care works, but most doctors agree these treatments are safe to try yourself:

Warm or cold compress

Soak a washcloth in either cool or warm water, wring it out, and then put it over the ear that's bothering you. Try both temperatures to see which one works better for you. Another option is a heating pad. Lay your painful ear on a warm, but not hot, heating pad.

Chew gum 

If you’re on an airplane or driving at high altitudes and your ear pain is from the change in air pressure, chew some gum. It can help lower that pressure and ease your symptoms.

Sleep upright

While it may sound strange, resting or sleeping sitting up rather than lying down can encourage fluid in your ear to drain. This could ease pressure and pain in your middle ear. Prop yourself up in bed with a stack of pillows, or sleep in an armchair that’s a bit reclined.

Try hydrogen peroxide drops 

They can help remove wax and bacteria from your ear. Tilt your head to the side and place a few drops in. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse out your ear.

Over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops

If you think that you might have swimmer’s ear — a condition where your ear canal becomes irritated from activities such as swimming or using a hearing aid — you can try an OTC product that contains isopropyl alcohol or glycerin, such as Debrox. But if it doesn’t feel better after a couple of days, let your doctor know. Avoid OTC numbing drops that contain ingredients such as benzocaine. They can make ear pain worse.

OTC pain relievers

Medications such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help ease ear pain, especially if it’s from an ear infection. Take them as directed on the label.


Since ginger is an anti-inflammatory, it may help ease pain that’s due to swelling. Just make sure to apply it only to the outer ear. You don’t want it to go into the ear canal.

Tea tree oil

Research suggests tea tree oil may help kill bacteria associated with ear infections. But most doctors don’t recommend it because if you use it as an ear drop, it may clog your ears and even damage them. This is true even if you dilute it before you use it.

Olive oil 

If your ear pain is due to earwax, you can try to soften it by applying warm olive oil to your ear canal. This can soften the earwax and make it easier to remove.

Most kids who complain of ear pain usually have some type of ear infection. Ninety percent of kids will get at least one. The pain may make them cry, fuss, and have trouble with sleep. Sometimes, your doctor will put them on antibiotics right away. Other times, they’ll want to watch and wait to see if the infection gets better on its own. Either way, you shouldn’t use anything inside the ear other than antibiotic ear drops for infants or kids. Here are some other safe options to relieve pain.

OTC pain relievers. Medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help relieve ear pain. Check with your pediatrician for their proper dosage.

Cold or warm washcloths. Place it on their outer ear for about 20 minutes, until their pain medication kicks in.

Keep them hydrated. If their ear pain is due to a respiratory bug such as a cold, it’s important for them to drink plenty of fluids. This will help relieve symptoms such as swelling and fluid buildup in their ears. A humidifier may also help.

Elevate their head. Encourage them to sleep with their head propped up on several pillows. This will encourage fluid to drain from their ear, which will help relieve painful ear pressure.

Swimmer’s ear pain in kids: Home remedies

If you think your child has swimmer’s ear, see your pediatrician. They will check your little one’s ear and prescribe ear drops if they see signs of infection. In the meantime, you can help ease pain with OTC pain relievers. If your child gets swimmer’s ear a lot, make a mixture that’s half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol. Apply a few drops in each ear after they swim.

If you or your child has a middle ear infection (otherwise known as otitis media), your doctor may want to start you on antibiotics, or they may recommend that you wait for 2 days to see if the infection gets better with home treatments such as getting plenty of fluids and rest. In the meantime, you can try:

  • OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) 
  • Hot or cold compresses

How to treat unbearable ear pain at home

Unbearable ear pain is usually a medical emergency. You should head to the ER for diagnosis and relief.

One common reason for earache is a respiratory viral infection such as a cold, the flu, or COVID. These sorts of viruses can cause swelling and fluid buildup in your ears. The same home remedies you’d use to treat the congestion from a cold can be helpful. They include:

  • Rest. This will allow your body to boost your immune system to fight infection.
  • Drink fluids. This will prevent dehydration, which can worsen congestion. Hot fluids such as tea or chicken broth may help ease nasal congestion, too.
  • Use a humidifier. It keeps air (and your nasal passages) moist, which will help improve congestion.
  • Try a neti pot. It can help ease severe nasal congestion that may contribute to ear pain.
  • Take an OTC decongestant. For children older than 12 and adults, decongestants may help clear ear congestion. These range from nasal sprays such as Afrin to oral decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine. Check with your doctor before you take them to make sure it’s safe.

Ear pain often gets better in 2 or 3 days on its own or with home care. Often all you need to do is take a pain reliever and be alert for symptoms that get worse. That said, it’s important to know when your discomfort might be a sign of something more serious.

Call your doctor if:

  • You notice fluid (such as pus or blood) oozing out of your ear.
  • You have a high fever, headache, or dizziness.
  • You believe an object is stuck in your ear.
  • You see swelling behind your ear, especially if that side of your face feels weak or you can’t move the muscles there.
  • You’ve had severe ear pain and it suddenly stops (which could mean a ruptured eardrum).
  • Your symptoms don’t get better (or get worse) in 24 to 48 hours.

Ear pain in children

If you see your child tug or pull at their ear, you may assume that they have an ear infection. But they often do that just to self-soothe. You need to take them to their pediatrician if:

  • They say their ear hurts.
  • They seem to have trouble hearing.
  • You see pus or fluid coming out of their ear.

Along with these symptoms, your child may also have a fever and/or a headache. 

Since ear infections in kids can be very painful and also cause sleep loss, it’s a good idea to get them checked by a doctor as soon as possible.

Ear pain is one of the most common reasons people see their doctor. Some causes include ear infections, pressure changes (for example, when you fly on an airplane or when you scuba dive), or congestion from a respiratory virus such as a cold or flu. You can ease ear pain at home with treatments such as OTC pain relievers, hot or cold compresses, and sleeping upright. If the pain persists for more than a couple of days, see your doctor. If your child has ear pain, it often indicates an ear infection. They should see their pediatrician right away.

What is the best treatment for ear pain?

Taking OTC pain relievers as well as applying hot or cold compresses to your ears can help. If pain doesn’t get better within 2-3 days, see your doctor to check for an ear infection. You may need antibiotics.

How do you stop earache fast in adults?

If the pain is due to an ear infection, antibiotics may help. If it’s from a cold or allergies, try an OTC decongestant. OTC pain relievers can also help. You can also try hot or cold compresses.

What are the best antibiotics for ear pain?

Amoxicillin or amoxicillin-clavulanate for kids and amoxicillin-clavulanate for adults.

How many days does it take to treat ear pain?

Usually, ear pain should get better within 2-3 days, especially if it’s caused by an ear infection. If it doesn’t, call your doctor.