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Ear Ache

Symptoms, Causes, Related Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • The article identifies six main causes of ear aches: earwax buildup, pressure changes, ear infections, foreign objects, sinus infections, and tooth problems.
  • Earwax buildup and pressure changes often cause a feeling of fullness or discomfort in the ear, while ear infections are particularly common among children.
  • Ear pain can also be caused by foreign objects in the ear, sinus infections due to the interconnectedness of the ears, nose, and mouth, and tooth problems such as infected or impacted teeth.
  • The article also highlights other health conditions that can cause ear aches, including temporomandibular joint syndrome, a perforated eardrum, and eczema.
  • The piece concludes with a list of potential questions a doctor may ask to diagnose the cause of an ear ache.

Top 6 Causes of Ear Ache

1. Earwax Buildup

Earwax buildup is one of the most common complaints when it comes to ear pain. Other ways to know that your earwax is causing your ear ache are symptoms such as a fullness or a plugged-up feeling inside the ear or strange noises in the ear.[1] Earwax buildup usually isn’t a serious problem, and in most cases, you can use over-the-counter medicines, baby oil, or water to soften and clear out your earwax. If you experience a fever, drainage, or hearing loss, you should discuss the issue with your doctor.

2. Changes in Pressure

When you fly on an airplane, the change in pressure that your body experiences can cause dull, temporary ear pain.[2] Some people experience a popping feeling after they get back on the ground, and this usually alleviates the pain. It is typically nothing to worry about, but if you take a trip and continue to experience ear pain 24 hours later, you might want to consider your other symptoms and see if something else could be wrong.

3. Ear Infection

Ear infections are common, especially among children. By the time they turn three years old, three in four children will have had an ear infection.[3] The most common ear infection is that of the otitis media. A doctor can easily diagnose an ear infection. Most of the time, ear infections go away on their own, but a bad infection might require the use of antibiotics. Some children get ear infections so often that they require surgery, but most do not.

4. Foreign Objects

Placing a foreign object inside the ear canal is the most common cause of an ear-related injury. Some people hurt their ears while playing sports or during falls, but in many cases, people place items in their ears such as their fingers or cotton swabs with the intent of clearing them out. Doing this can be painful and can cause varying degrees of damage. If you have a child with an ear ache, it is also possible that soap or shampoo still in their ear from their last bath has caused the pain.

5. Sinus Infection

A sinus infection can also cause ear pain. Other symptoms of a sinus infection include weakness, fatigue, congestion, coughing, sneezing, and fever.[4] The ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, and your sinuses can become packed with mucus as a result of a sinus infection, making your ears feel as uncomfortable as your throat and nose. A sinus infection that lasts more than four weeks could require extra help from a doctor, but if you experience a run-of-the-mill cold, it’s best to use over-the-counter cold medicine, rest, and let it run its course.

6. Tooth Problems

Believe it or not, your teeth could, in fact, be the reason behind your ear ache. An infected tooth or an impacted tooth could cause the pain you feel in your ear.[2] Other signs that your ear ache could be related to a tooth problem are bad breath, a bad taste in the mouth, a swollen gland in the neck, or swollen areas near a tooth in the gums or jaw.[5] If you notice any of these issues in addition to an ear ache, it’s best to visit a dentist and find out how severe your tooth problem may be.

Possible Health Conditions Related to Ear Ache

1. Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome

Temporomandibular joint syndrome, or TMJ, encompasses a host of disorders associated with the muscles and joints that allow you to chew and connect your skull with your jawbone.[6] There are many different reasons why a person might experience a TMJ disorder, such as grinding, having braces, or having a misaligned bite. Arthritis of the jaw is also a type of TMJ disorder. Additional symptoms of this disorder include headache, jaw pain, a locked jaw, and clicking sounds that occur when the jaw opens and closes. Because so many parts of the mouth and face can be affected by a TMJ disorder, it is important to see a doctor about this issue.

2. Perforated Eardrum

A perforated eardrum, also known as a ruptured eardrum, is a tear in the tissue that makes up your eardrum.[7] Hearing loss, ringing in the ear, vertigo, vomiting, and drainage coming from inside your ear are all symptoms of a ruptured eardrum. Most of the time, this condition heals on its own, but it can also be helpful to see a doctor for a confirmed diagnosis. It’s also important to be very careful with your ear during the healing process, as a ruptured eardrum leaves your middle ear vulnerable to injury.

3. Eczema

Some people experience a common skin disorder called eczema, which can cause irritated patches of skin all over the body. Eczema rashes are usually flaky and red, and in many cases, they are also itchy and painful. A person can get eczema on, in, or around their ear as well as in other places on their body.[2] Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of eczema that occurs on the face, scalp, nose, and ears.[8] A doctor can look at your skin and determine whether eczema is the cause of your pain. Eczema cannot be cured, but it can be managed.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Your Ear Ache

  • How long have you dealt with this ear ache?
  • What does the pain feel like? Is it constant, stabbing, mild, severe, etc.?
  • Do certain things make it worse, such as loud noises?
  • Do you use cotton swabs at home?
  • Did you have a cold or the flu recently?

Ear Ache May Also Be Known as

  • Ear pain
  • Sore ears

Frequently asked questions

  • What are the top causes of ear aches?

    The top causes of ear aches include earwax buildup, pressure changes, ear infections, foreign objects in the ear, sinus infections, and tooth problems.
  • How can earwax buildup cause ear pain?

    Earwax buildup can cause ear pain by creating a feeling of fullness or a plugged-up sensation inside the ear.
  • Are ear infections a common cause of ear pain?

    Yes, ear infections are a common cause of ear pain, especially among children.
  • Can tooth problems cause ear aches?

    Yes, tooth problems such as an infected or impacted tooth can cause ear pain due to the close proximity of the ears and mouth.
  • What other health conditions can cause ear aches?

    Other health conditions that can cause ear aches include temporomandibular joint syndrome, a perforated eardrum, and eczema.
  • How can sinus infections lead to ear pain?

    Sinus infections can lead to ear pain due to the interconnectedness of the ears, nose, and mouth.
  • Can pressure changes cause ear pain?

    Yes, changes in pressure, such as during an airplane flight, can cause temporary ear pain.
  • What might a doctor ask me if I have an ear ache?

    A doctor may ask you about the symptoms you're experiencing, any recent changes in pressure or altitude, if you've inserted anything into your ear, and about your dental and sinus health.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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