Ear pain and a sore throat frequently occur together. The eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and the upper throat. This connection sometimes enables conditions affecting the nose and throat -- such as allergies and upper respiratory infections -- to also cause ear problems. In addition, if the throat is inflamed and painful, the pain is sometimes felt in the ear as well due to shared nerve pathways. Several home remedies may be helpful in providing relief for these symptoms, depending on the underlying cause.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter pain relievers are an option to relieve throat and ear pain. The authors of a July 2006 "Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics" article reviewed research on the effectiveness of aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for symptoms of colds and flu 9. They concluded that although research is limited, these medicines are generally safe and likely effective. A March 2010 "Annals of Pharmacology" article that examined results from 85 studies concluded that ibuprofen and acetaminophen are effective for pain relief -- regardless of cause -- in both children and adults, with no significant difference between the medicines 8. Guidelines established in 2015 by the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery also recommend use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat ear or throat pain associated with a sinus infection.
Ear pain and a sore throat commonly occur with allergies, along with symptoms like runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing. Allergies trigger swelling of the nasal lining, which can extend into the eustachian tube and lead to ear pain. Postnasal drip related to allergies can also cause a sore throat. In the case of ear and throat pain associated with allergies, 2008 practice parameters published by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommend second-generation antihistamines to reduce allergy symptoms. These medicines block the effects of histamine, which is released during an allergic reaction and contributes to typical symptoms. Second-generation antihistamines available over the counter include: -- Fexofenadine (Allegra). -- Loratadine (Alavert). -- Desloratadine (Claritin). -- Cetirizine (Zyrtec).
Saline Nasal Rinses and Gargling
Upper respiratory infections and nasal allergies stimulate increased mucus production, which can lead to inflammation and pain in the ears and throat. Salt-water, or saline, nasal rinses have been suggested as a way of clearing out excess mucus, but research remains mixed. An April 2015 "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" article concluded that nasal saline rinses might reduce the severity or duration of cold symptoms, although the existing evidence supporting use of this remedy is of low quality 5. Mucus clearance and nasal symptoms did improve among people with allergies who rinsed with saline, according to a September-October 2012 "American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy" article that pooled results from 10 studies. Less nasal congestion and mucus could, in turn, relieve related ear and throat pain. In addition, 2013 guidelines from the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement recommends gargling with salt water to relieve throat pain associated with respiratory infections.
Throat-soothing remedies may directly relieve throat pain and possibly referred ear pain. While many of these remedies exist, few have been studies to determine effectiveness. Honey and certain teas are sometimes used to temporarily coat and soothe the inflamed tissue of a sore throat. A small study published in April 2003 in the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" reported the proprietary tea containing slippery elm, marshmallow root and licorice root (Throat Coat) effectively relieved sore throat pain for up to 30 minutes 2. Pain-relieving throat lozenges (Cepacol, Sucrets) or sprays (Chloraseptic) might also provide short-term relief. Other throat-soothing remedies recommended by the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement include: -- Sucking on ice or hard candy, preferably sugar-free. -- Drinking cool, icy or warm fluids, depending on what feels best. -- Eating soft foods.
Warnings and Precautions
A sore throat and ear pain are usually caused by a simple cold or respiratory infection that will go away in a few days. However, these symptoms sometimes may signal a more significant illness. See your doctor if your symptoms last longer than 7 to 10 days. Also be on the lookout for signs and symptoms that might indicate a more serious medical issue requiring immediate attention, including: -- High fever or chills. -- Difficulty swallowing or breathing. -- Decreased hearing, ringing in the ears or dizziness. -- Headache or body aches. -- Unusual tiredness, weakness or unintentional weight loss. -- Development of a rash.
- Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery: Clinical Practice Guideline (Update): Adult Sinusitis
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Safety and Efficacy of a Traditional Herbal Medicine (Throat Coat) in Symptomatic Temporary Relief of Pain in Patients With Acute Pharyngitis: A Multicenter, Prospective, Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Study
- The Journal of Family Practice: Which Treatments Provide the Most Relief for Pharyngitis Pain?
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: The Diagnosis and Management of Rhinitis: An Updated Practice Parameter
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Nasal Saline Irrigation for Acute Upper Airway Infection Symptoms
- American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy: Nasal Irrigation as an Adjunctive Treatment in Allergic Rhinitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th edition; Dennis Kasper et al.
- Annals of Pharmacotherapy: Efficacy and Safety of Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen in Children and Adults: A Meta-Analysis and Qualitative Review
- Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics: Efficacy and Safety of Over-the-Counter Analgesics in the Treatment of Common Cold and Flu