As people with small children know, an earache can be painful. But while it’s more common in children, internal ear swelling and other causes of earache strike adults, too. And the pain adults feel can be just as agonizing.

Many things can cause an earache, but one of the most common is an infection. In many cases, the infection will go away on its own. But if an earache does not get better or if other symptoms such as a high fever appear, it’s best to see your doctor.

The Mayo Clinic says adults and children may share many of the same symptoms during an earache. Some of the common signs are:

  • Throbbing or pain within the ear
  • A feeling of thickness in the troubled ear
  • Ringing or noises heard in the ear
  • Decreased hearing in the ear
  • Dizziness
  • Cough

Additional symptoms may include stomach pain, cough, loose stool, eye pain and redness, muscle or joint pain, sore throat, and wheezing.

Our ears control not only our hearing, but also our balance. That’s why an earache can cause symptoms such as dizziness or ringing in the ear. Adults usually have a longer laundry list of possible symptoms than children.

If you’re still unsure how your earache might have begun, the Mayo Clinic has a symptom checker for earaches that can help you find the possible causes. The results may help you understand how your earache came about and what you might tell your doctor or a pharmacist at your local drug store if you turn to them for help.

When it comes to children, the Mayo Clinic suggests you talk with a doctor if your child:

  • Has blood or pus draining from the ear
  • Has an earache along with a fever
  • Pulls or scratches at the ear
  • Does not react normally to sounds
  • Shows sleeplessness or painful crying while troubled by a cold

In children, the most common earaches start in the middle ear, which is an air-filled space behind the eardrum.

Adults, on the other hand, often have earaches that start in the ear canal, which is the outer part of the ear that leads to the eardrum. This may be more common among those who swim or have skin problems such as eczema — a red, itchy rash — around the ear. If your earache is like this, eardrops or an ear spray may help you.

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Do you need to call your doctor?

Although an earache is a common health issue, it can develop into something more serious. If the pain lasts for more than 48 hours, you get a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit or fluid leaks from the troubled ear, see a doctor.