Ow My Ear
December 23, 2013 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I have an earache for the first time since I was, what, 6? It sucks. Help.

I have an earache (secondary infection following a cold). This is day 10 of the cold and day 5 of the earache. I've seen a doctor who advised antibiotics, pseudoephedrine, and heavy-duty cough syrup. I'm four days into that and I still do not feel much better. A little better, but not BETTER.

My ear still aches a little bit, it still feels congested, and I still have muffled hearing. How long will it take to feel better - how long until my hearing comes back - any tips on how to make this go away faster or how to be more comfortable? The things I normally do help my sinuses but DO NOT help my ear.
posted by bq to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Painkillers (NSAIDs or Tylenol), if those are OK with the other things you're taking, and/or a warm compress/warm washcloth lain on the achy ear are good short-term helpers for the pain.
posted by brainmouse at 9:46 AM on December 23, 2013

I know one time in my early 20's, my ear was blocked and hurting and my boyfriend put hydrogen peroxide in it and that helped a lot. He said they did it a lot when he was a kid, so I can't be sure it's medically sound, but it sure helped.
posted by mermaidcafe at 9:53 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm not willing to actually put anything IN my ear unless a doctor tells me to....
posted by bq at 10:03 AM on December 23, 2013

It usually helps to keep it warm. I put a small cotton ball with some warmed olive oil on it into my ear at night. Now that I see your update, I don't know if you'd even consider this idea, but if you think about earplugs....it really is not that different. The oil releases the heat slowly and it is relaxing.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:07 AM on December 23, 2013

Your Eustachian tubes are clogged with mucus. Most likely from a sinus infection (otherwise the doc wouldn't have given you antibiotics).

This is inside your ear and no amount of Q-tip/peroxide/etc from the outside will clear it up.

So you need to clear up that sinus infection first. Take the meds, use the Sudafed to try and open up your passages more. HYDRATE. Drink water like crazy. The drugs will dehydrate you and make the mucus stickier.

Take lots of hot showers or hold your head over a bowl of very hot water. Try to get warm moisture up into your sinus areas.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:08 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Everyone's going to tell you to put heat on it. Don't.

Wrap ice packs WELL in towels and ice your jaw and underneath your ear. 20 minutes on, 20 off. Take an anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen or naproxen) by the clock per the label. Don't let it wear off.

You want the inflammation in your eardrum AND all the lymph nodes around your ear and jaw to go down. Cold reduces swelling. I like frozen peas or the fancy frozen bead reusable ice packs from the drugstore, as they conform to your face better. Do not frostbite your face and neck, so be very careful to wrap well even though it reduces some of the available cold.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:08 AM on December 23, 2013

Warm compress. Soothing and increases blood flow to the area.
posted by Specklet at 10:08 AM on December 23, 2013

Or not.
posted by Specklet at 10:09 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Try switching from just pseudoephedrine to a pseudoephedrine-guaifenesin combo (aka Mucinex D). Take with tons of water. I have been dealing with the same problem for the past couple of weeks, and have gone to see an ENT, and this has made the biggest difference. It is slowly but surely clearing up my blocked sinus passages. Taking an NSAID to help with the swelling and pain is also good.

Also, I experience a sizable (negative) difference on the days when I fall asleep before turning on my humidifier.

Good luck--this is NO FUN. :(
posted by gone2croatan at 10:26 AM on December 23, 2013

Mucus aid (or generic equivalent) it works on all mucous and isn't just for chest colds and coughing it will thin the goop so it flows easier. Sudafed to open up the tubes and get things flowing, you want to drain the goop out.

NSAIDS to reduce inflammation, and ice exactly as Lyn Never suggested. You want the swelling to go down so things can drain and all the infection can drain out.

Drink lots of hot tea and honey to help wash everything that is leaking out down and away.

Try and lay on your back and propped up so the stuff drains down and away or sitting up normally is fine too.

These were all things recommended to me by my doctor. I ANAD.

I also find a humidifier with Eucalyptus or lavender essential oils in helps me.
posted by wwax at 10:26 AM on December 23, 2013

I had chronic ear infections in my youth which stopped when I was about 7 years old, and started again (an ear infection twice a year) when I was in my early twenties. I was prescribed antibiotics from my doctor every time, but it never seemed to heal properly and I have a bit of permanent hearing damage from it. I've always had problems with my ears/nose/throat.

When I had an ear infection while living in the UK, my GP told me to do warm olive oil ear drops. She said if it didn't improve, they would try olive oil syringing (info on the previous link) but my earache cleared up after the warm olive oil ear drops. I haven't had an ear infection since then! (~3 years ago) However, there are conflicting opinions about the effectiveness of this treatment.

Also, if you are opposed to putting anything if your ear without doctor's approval (can't blame you there), maybe you should ask your doctor about alternatives to prescription drugs? Maybe you could try transplanting earwax?
posted by horizonseeker at 10:46 AM on December 23, 2013

In addition to NSAIDS, Mucinex D, lots and lots of water, also try doing a bit of massage on your neck.

Tilt your head over one shoulder until you feel a nice stretch. Rub down from the ear that's facing up, down your neck. Then switch. You can do this with soapy hands in the shower. It'll get those tendons and lymph nodes to loosen up.
posted by fontophilic at 11:01 AM on December 23, 2013

I've had this exact experience and gotten this exact prescription. I think if there was some other treatment that would help faster, the doctor would have given it to you (and me!)

I'm four days into that and I still do not feel much better.

I can't remember exactly how long it took to clear up, but definitely longer than that. I'm thinking 10 days - 2 weeks but don't quote me. Unfortunately you just need to be patient.

Also re: peroxide it is not harmful, but it is used to dissolve earwax clogs and does not cure infections. (I am not a doctor.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2013

(You'll note that OTC earwax uncloggers like Debrox are mostly just peroxide.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2013

I put a small cotton ball with some warmed olive oil on it into my ear at night.

My doctor recommended this when I had this problem. Also make sure you don’t have a tooth infection, especially in the back. I also had to switch antibiotics as the first one didn’t really do the job.
posted by bongo_x at 12:57 PM on December 23, 2013

If it's a really bad infection, you might need a second course of antibiotics. If it has not cleared up by the time you are finished with the antibiotics, you should call your doctor.
posted by merejane at 1:00 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're in major pain and can't stand it, see an ENT (ear, nose & throat) doc and ask for a myringotomy.
They make a tiny slit in your eardrum and drain your inner ear. It's like popping a zit. I've had it done a few times and it's instant relief. It also enables the use of antibiotic drops since the drops can now get past your eardrum.

Oh, and as someone mentioned above, anything you could put in your ear like peroxide or oil is going to be a placebo, since the infection is behind the eardrum.
posted by PSB at 2:26 PM on December 23, 2013

Lots of good suggestions here--something that hasn't been suggested yet is the use of a Neti pot or some other kind of sinus rinse with warm saline water. I usually go for about a .5% salt solution. It might not directly help the earache, but it can help clean out the general pharyngeal area and maybe relieve some congestion in the eustachian tubes.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:28 PM on December 23, 2013

Since you asked how long ... Here's a worst case scenario. I had a raging ear infection with pneumonia a few years ago and ended up in the ER at 1 am for painkillers. I was already on heavy duty antibiotics for the pneumonia so I didn't need a separate scrip. My eardrum actually burst pretty shortly after the ER trip and that helped with the pain. My hearing in that ear started to come back after a month and is normal now.

So worst case scenario - the eardrum bursts - you'll regain some hearing in a month or so. I bet having the slit made in your eardrum to relieve the pressure like someone described up thread would be great, I'd take that over Percocet any day.
posted by data hound at 3:40 PM on December 23, 2013

I always ask for a prescrip of Nasonex. It helps clear out my eustacian tubes as well as my sinuses. However, some folk don't like spraying stuff up their noses.
posted by PJMoore at 3:49 PM on December 23, 2013

Your ear has been hurting for 5 days - which in terms of an ear infection is really nothing. I highly doubt you are at the point of needing a myringotomy or a tube. Too many of those and you'll scar your eardrum which will affect your hearing, so you don't want to go there if you don't have to.

The pain in your ear is caused by inflammation and blockage in your eustachian tubes. Your eustachian tubes are responsible for regulating the pressure in your middle ear. If they get inflammed or blocked, you get a vacuum in your middle ear. This can hurt and it can last awhile.

These days, antibiotics are actually rarely prescribed for otitis media, and almost never in children. They have not proven very effective in increasing recovery time. Most of the time, otitis media will clear up on its own in a week. It can, however, take months.

Putting cotton balls with olive oil or whatever in your ear is going to be absolutely futile. My general advice to people is to not put anything in their ears, period. Antihistamines have not proven effective for the treatment of ear infections.

Take an NSAID and try to bear it for a few more days and see where you are. If you notice any effusion - stuff leaking out of your ear - then it's definitely time to go back to the doctor or the ENT. The worry there is because of the vacuum in your middle ear, that effusion can basically get sucked back there and pool. This can then get infected. And then you have something a bit more to worry about. But for now, I would try to rest and see if it clears up on its own.

posted by Lutoslawski at 3:52 PM on December 23, 2013

Came in here to say that 4 days of pain following the start of antibiotics is long. You really ought to feel better after 2-3d. If it's not 100% gone by the time you're done your antibiotics (or at most 1-2d after) then go see your doctor again for a 2nd round. Ah the joys of resistant infections...
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:43 PM on December 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I did start to feel better a couple of days after posting this Q. My hearing was affect for an additional 2 weeks but now is back to normal.
posted by bq at 2:21 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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