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Ear self–care

Ear ache

If you have earache, you may have pain that is sharp, dull, or throbbing. You may also have muffled hearing or a feeling of pressure or blockage.

Common causes of earache

  • an ear infection
  • a throat, nose or mouth infection
  • a build-up of ear wax
  • changes in altitude or air pressure (eg, when an aeroplane lands)
  • an object, growth, or insect in the ear
  • a disease of the gland in front of the ear (eg, mumps)

Most ear infections are self-limiting and do not require antibiotics. The infection often begins as a cold, sinus infection or throat infection. Bacteria enter the nose or throat then travel up the tubes to your ear. You begin to feel pain as your eardrum becomes swollen and red, and fluid builds up in the air space behind the eardrum.

The total duration of most ear infections is 4 days.

Self–care when you have ear ache

  • a warm face cloth, wheat bag or covered hot water bottle held against your affected ear may help relieve the discomfort
  • take paracetamol for pain or fever. (Follow the directions given by your health professional or pharmacist.)
  • lie with the affected ear against your pillow, or sit propped up in bed
  • drink lots of fluids – such as water, fruit juice, soups, herb tea
  • practice good hand hygiene
  • let your College CCL/Warden or flat mates/friends know you are unwell

When to see your doctor 

Most viral ear infections last only 3 days to a week and you probably won’t need to see a doctor. However, you should see your doctor if you get any of these symptoms with your ear ache:

  • discharge from your ear
  • dizziness, nausea or vomiting
  • a severe headache, stiff neck or really bad pain in the ear or behind the ear
  • a temperature of 38.6°C or higher that lasts more than 2 days
  • a headache that lasts several days
  • earache lasting more than 4 days

Meningitis

Meningitis is a bacterial disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis. There are various groups of bacteria including groups A, B, C, Y and W.

  • 1-2 people in 10 who survive have long term complications
  • 1-2 people out of every 10 will die

Those most at risk are:

  • adolescents and young adults aged between 15-19 years
  • smokers
  • those living in residential colleges and crowded accommodation
  • binge drinking
  • having another respiratory condition eg influenza
  • having a condition affecting the immune system
  • Māori and Pacific ethnicity

Symptoms of meningitis can develop suddenly and include:

  • a high fever
  • headache
  • sleepiness
  • confusion
  • abdominal pain
  • joint and muscle pains.
  • a stiff neck
  • dislike of bright lights
  • vomiting
  • a rash consisting of reddish-purple pin-prick spots or bruises that don’t fade with pressure

What to do       

  • if you or your friend/ family are worried you are seriously ill, get medical attention straight away or call an ambulance by dialing 111
  • say what the symptoms are
  • you can also call Healthline free on 0800 611 116, 24 hours a day – even if you have already been seen by a health professional
  • vaccination reduces the risk and is very effective – For more info www.immune.org.nz

NOTE: Meningitis ACWY vaccination is free for 13 to 25 year old residents in college accommodation

Useful contacts

  • Student Health
    Tel 0800 479 821
    Open Mon–Fri 8:30- 5pm
    Wed 9:45am start
    Evenings 5pm to 8:30pm semester only
  • Healthline – nurse advice 24/7
    Tel 0800 611 116
  • Or go to
    • Dunedin Urgent Doctor and Accident Centre – 18 Filleul Street  8am–10pm
    • Emergency Department( emergencies only) Dunedin Hospital- Great King Street, Dunedin