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Causes of Ear Pain and How to Deal

Almost every human, from infants to elders, has had at least one earache. It's a prevalent medical condition that can range from sensitive ears to acute and distressing pain. A slight earache can go away on its own in a few hours, but untreated ear problems can lead to severe medical issues. So, how do you know which kind of ear pain you are dealing with and what you should do about it?

At Miologi, we are a group of pain professionals dedicated to helping the public learn about and treat their pain.

Ear Pain Overview

Earaches are a widespread pain complaint. Although they are more frequent in children, anyone can develop ear pain at any time. Typically only one ear is affected, but it is possible for the pain to be bilateral or in both ears.

Ear pain can be dull or sharp, burning or aching, constant or intermittent. There are many causes of ear pain, from some very mundane reasons such as earwax buildup to some more severe reasons. Ear pain can often be treated at home, but sometimes requires the help of a medical professional.

4 Causes of Ear Pain & Treatments

1. Ear Wax Blockage

If your body produces too much ear wax, or the wax gets pushed too far into your ear, you can develop ear pain. Some people are prone to producing too much wax. Other times, ear wax will get pushed deeper into your ear due to improper ear cleaning.

To treat an ear wax blockage, you can try several at-home remedies before going to a doctor.

Wax softening

Using mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin in a dropper, add 5-10 drops to your ear and let it work its way in. Repeat twice per day for four or five days to help the wax come out on its own.

Irrigation

Irrigating your ear with water can also help dislodge blocked wax. Use a rubber ball syringe filled with warm water. Tilt your head to the opposite side of your blocked ear and squeeze the syringe slowly to let water enter your ear. Repeat a few times, then tilt your head, so the blocked ear is down. Shake your head a few times and let gravity help dislodge the blockage.

If symptoms persist after trying these methods, or you have severe ear pain or fever, head to your doctor for assistance.

2. Infection

A common cause of ear pain is an infection of the ear. There are several types could be producing the pain:

Outer Ear Infection

An outer ear infection occurs when the outer portion of the ear and ear canal becomes an infection. It usually occurs as a result of being frequently moist, which is why one common type of outer ear infection is known as 'swimmer's ear.'

Outer ear infections are relatively common, affecting mostly children and teens and those who spend time in the water. Showering and cleaning your ears too frequently can also result in an outer ear infection. The CDC estimates that outer ear infections cause some 2.4 million doctor's office visits annually.

You can treat swimmer’s ear at home by making an eardrop mixture of 50 percent rubbing alcohol, 25 percent vinegar, and 25 percent distilled water. Add a few drops to your affected ear and lay on your side to let it enter. However, most outer ear infections require antibiotic drops prescribed by your doctor.

Middle Ear Infection

When the area behind the eardrum becomes inflamed due to a virus or bacteria, a middle ear infection develops. It’s a common condition in children, with approximately 80 percent of kids getting a middle ear infection by the time they are age 3.

Symptoms of a middle ear infection are similar to an outer ear infection, but may also include loss of balance. Many middle ear infections go away on their own, but if your ear pain is severe or you are running a fever, see a doctor for antibiotics. Untreated middle ear infections can result in a ruptured eardrum and other complications.

3. TMJ Disorder & Teeth Grinding

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your lower and upper jaws and allows your mouth to open and close. If this joint is damaged or misaligned, you may have TMJ Disorder, and you will experience jaw popping and pain as well as possible ear pain.

TMJD often develops as a result of chronic teeth grinding, which itself is a cause of ear pain. The TMJ closure is just beneath and beside the ear, and the pain feels as if it is within your ear.

You can get bite guards to stop clenching or grinding your teeth. Relieving stress often helps people learn to unclench their jaw and lessen the TMJ and ear pain.

4. Perforated or Ruptured Eardrum

Everyone has a small flap of tissue that separates their middle and outer ear canals. It’s called the tympanic membrane or eardrum, and it vibrates to help us hear. If you get a small tear or hole in your eardrum, it causes ear pain and often some hearing loss.

Your eardrum can rupture for a variety of reasons, including

  • Ear infection
  • Changes in altitude, such as flying in a plane, driving to a high altitude, or scuba diving
  • Shock waves
  • A direct impact to the ear, such as from a fall, sports injury, or car accident

If your eardrum ruptures, acute pain is the main symptom. Sometimes fluid, pus, or blood will leak from the ear. You may also have a ringing in your ear. A doctor can diagnose a perforated eardrum using an ear exam and specialized equipment.

Many times perforated eardrums heal on their own, especially with the help of antibiotic ear drops from your doctor. If it does not, there are surgical options to repair it and restore your hearing.

Final Remarks

Earaches may be common, but they should not be overlooked. They could be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as Meniere’s Disease. At Miologi, our goal is to make sure you know about your pain and about your options.