Ear Pain: An Overview of Common Causes

Earaches: Causes and Remedies

Ear pain is more commonly known as an ear ache and generally occur in children, but they do also occur in adults as well.

It is unusual to experience ear pain in both ears simultaneously. Most of the time it occurs in either one or the other ear.  Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of your pain. The following causes are ranked from most probable to least. 

Ear Pain Rankings
  1. Ear wax blockage: this common cause of ear pain occurs when earwax hardens or has pushed too deep into your ear canal.
  2. Otitis externa: the second most common cause of ear pain is an outer ear infection that occurs when the tube that joins the ear opening to the eardrum becomes infected.
  3. Foreign element in the ear: in this case, a foreign object that doesn’t belong in the ear and has been either accidentally or intentionally inserted into the ear causing the pain.
  4. Middle ear infection: this is also known as otitis media, which occurs when bacteria or a virus causes the region behind the eardrum to become inflamed. It most commonly occurs in children.
  5. Sinus infections: sinus infections can cause the nasal passages and the sinuses to get inflamed. As well, swelling of the face is also a typical symptom of this infection.
  6. Mastoiditis: when an infection occurs within your middle ear area and obstructs your eustachian tube. The resulting infection is called mastoiditis.
  7. TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint): these disorders refer to problems with the muscles and joints that join the lower jaw on either side of the head. People with TMJ sometimes develop ear pain as a symptom of TMJ’s complications.
  8. Ear barotrauma: this is also known as ‘airplane ear’. It’s a condition that produces ear discomfort because of pressure changes related to altitude changes.
  9. Chronic ear infection: this particular source of ear pain describes when an ear infection does not heal or becomes a recurring problem.
  10. Malignant otitis externa: this condition describes an event when an infection spreads to the outer ear and the tissue surrounding it.
  11. Ruptured ear drum: in this case, a ruptured ear drum describes when a tear or small hole occurs in your eardrum.
  12. Menieres disease: in the case of this ear pain disorder, there is no known cause other than that it occurs in the inner ear.
  13. Trigeminal neuralgia: this is an especially pernicious chronic pain disorder that involves extreme facial nerve pain.
  14. Acoustic Neuroma: in this case, noncancerous tumors grow on the nerve that adjoins the brain and ear.

While people commonly associate ear pain with an infection there actually are a variety of different potential causes of ear pain, as we can see above.

How are ear infections diagnosed?

Doctors use instruments called otoscopes to examine your ear for ear infections. Typically, a healthy ear drum is transparent with a pinkish-gray color. When there is an infection in the ear, the eardrum will show signs of being swollen, inflamed or red. There may be further tests required, depending on what other symptoms the doctor sees in your ear to make an accurate diagnosis.

Earache treatments

Earaches are particularly treatable issues and rarely lead to chronic pain problems.

Ear Pain Treatments
  • Typically, physicians may prescribe over the counter and age-appropriate painkillers. Most commonly prescribed are paracetamol or ibuprofen, which are designed to treat pain and inflammation symptoms.
  • If your earache is caused by earwax blockages, dripping some olive oil into your ear could potentially loosen up the blockage.  As well, your local pharmacy will likely have a solution that you can use to help flush out your ear of any blockages.
  • Sometimes physicians prescribe antibiotics for ear infections, however, there is recent research that indicates that antibiotics are not always the best strategy for treating the infection.

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