What are the Most Common Causes of a Sore Ear?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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A sore ear can be quite painful and distressing. Fortunately, it is generally quite easy for a doctor to determine the cause of the discomfort. Some of the more common causes of a sore ear include swimmer's ear, an ear infection, or the common cold. A sore ear can sometimes be due to referred pain from another source, such as a sore throat or a tooth problem. Treatment involves finding and dealing with the source of the pain.

Swimmers ear is a common source of the development of a sore ear. This is an infection of the outer portion of the ear canal, often caused by water remaining in the ear after swimming. Ear drops can often cure this condition relatively quickly. In some cases, oral antibiotics may need to be taken for a few days. If treated early, there will likely not be any serious complications.

A sore ear is often the result of an ear infection, especially in young children. Pain and fever are the most common symptoms of an ear infection. Drainage from the ear may occur in some patients. Oral antibiotics are almost always used to treat an ear infection. It is important to finish all of the prescribed medication, even if symptoms begin to improve before all the medication is finished.


The common cold can lead to a person having a sore ear. When nasal or sinus congestion is present, the added pressure in the nasal cavity can cause pressure to build up behind the ears, causing pain. While there is no cure for the common cold, symptoms typically clear up on their own within a few days. An over-the-counter pain reliever can be used until the symptoms begin to improve.

Referred pain is another possible reason for a sore ear. For instance, if someone has a toothache or sore throat, it is common for that pain to extend to the ears. Once the originating condition has been treated, the ear pain should go away.

While most cases of a sore ear are not serious and can be treated with relative ease, it is important to visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis. This is especially true if the pain is severe or if it does not respond to conservative treatment options. Occasionally, a structural problem may be present, and more invasive treatment may be needed. It is always best to get a diagnosis from a doctor before attempting to treat any kind of ear pain at home.


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