Your ears are small but complicated organs. Each one consists of three main sections—the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear—that are themselves comprised of many tiny but crucial components. When all of these parts function properly, you can hear and maintain your balance with ease. But when something goes wrong, it can lead to issues like ear pain. This type of pain can be insidious and devastating, wreaking havoc on your wellbeing. It can even radiate outwards, affecting other parts of your face and head. Read on to learn about some common ear pain causes, as well as ear pain remedies that can help you get back to normal as soon as possible.
What causes ear pain?
Because your ears are so complex and consist of so many unique parts, it should come as no surprise that ear pain can be caused by a wide range of issues. For example, some ear pain causes don’t even originate with your ears! These ear pain causes may include:
- Dental issues, like toothaches
- Sinus infections
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (also called TMD or TMJ)
- Earwax issues
- Ruptured eardrum
- Referred pain
We discuss some of the common ear pain causes in more detail below, along with treatment options that could help. However, always remember to consult your physician before trying any treatments. Because ear pain has so many potential causes, it can be difficult to know what remedies will work best without a diagnosis.
Can a toothache cause ear pain?
Your dental health can indeed affect your overall health. That includes your aural (ear) health. The pain from a toothache can radiate out and cause pain in your ear, if the toothache is serious enough.
Common toothache causes include tooth decay and gum diseases, like gingivitis. Proper oral hygiene—i.e. brushing and flossing—and regular dental check-ups can help prevent these issues. Sometimes, though, a toothache results from something that you have no control over. You may suffer an accident that breaks or fractures a tooth. Or perhaps your wisdom teeth don’t have room to erupt through the gums. Impacted wisdom teeth can cause multiple health issues.
If you do develop a toothache, there are many home remedies you can try, including salt water rinses and cold compresses. But if your toothache persists, or if you know that the cause of your toothache is something you can’t fix yourself, see your dentist right away. This will prevent your toothache from becoming serious enough to affect your ears and, potentially, other parts of your body.
If your toothache is caused by infection or disease, treatment typically involves medication and oral rinses. In cases involving damaged, decayed, or impacted teeth, surgery may be necessary.
Can allergies cause ear pain?
Over 19 million adults and 5 million children in the United States suffer from hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis or simply allergies. This is a sensitivity to pollen, dust, animal dander, or other triggers.
If you suffer from allergies, you already know that common symptoms include a congested or runny nose, eye irritation, coughing, and more. These symptoms all affect your eyes, nose, and throat, but your ears can suffer the consequences of allergy season as well.
Why do allergies affect your ears? It’s all due to the eustachian tubes.
These small tubes connect your sinuses to your ear. Under normal circumstances, the eustachian tubes keep your ears healthy by draining fluid away from the ears. But when you are exposed to an allergen, the eustachian tubes may become irritated. This in turn can cause ear pressure and/or pain. Alternatively, when your sinuses fill up as a result of an allergic reaction, the excess mucus can fill the eustachian tube, also causing discomfort.
To treat allergy-related ear pain, you can usually take decongestants or antihistamines. These should relieve your allergy symptoms, including ear pain. Talk to your doctor, though, before beginning this treatment.
Can a sinus infection cause ear pain?
Your sinuses are sack-like organs located behind your nose, cheeks, and forehead that produce mucus. A lot of people may think of mucus as gross and inconvenient (especially during allergy season!) but it serves an important purpose, keeping the sensitive areas inside your nose moist and free from irritants.
A sinus infection, also called sinusitis, occurs when something—perhaps allergies or a bacterial or fungal infection—irritates the sinuses. This can lead to breathing difficulties, postnasal drip, facial pain, and other symptoms.
So how can your sinuses, which are in the middle of your face, affect your ears? The answer lies once again with the eustachian tubes. As discussed previously, when your sinuses are clogged, the eustachian tube can also become clogged, leading to ear pressure and pain.
The best way to treat sinus-related ear pain is to treat the sinus infection. Common sinus infection treatments may include nasal sprays and nasal irrigation, antibiotics, and breathing in steam from a bowl or a hot shower. Again, talk to your doctor to ensure you’re not suffering from a more serious condition.
Can TMJ cause ear pain?
Temporomandibular joint disorder, often shortened to TMJ, occurs when the cartilage connecting your jawbone to your skull becomes damaged or inflamed. TMJ is usually caused by stress or trauma to the jaw. Frequent teeth grinding is a common culprit.
Because the temporomandibular joint is so close to your ears, TMJ often results in ear pain. In fact, eight out of ten TMJ sufferers report earaches. If your ear pain is accompanied by jaw pain, clicking, or popping, and if you do not have symptoms associated with other ear pain causes (e.g. a fever, which may be a sign of infection), then TMJ could be behind your ear pain.
Treatment for TMJ-related ear pain includes special exercises and stretches. If stress is causing your TMJ, treatment may also include learning ways to manage your stress.
Other ear pain causes
If your ear pain doesn’t match the signs and symptoms described above, you may find a more likely cause in the following explanations.
Cerumen, usually referred to as earwax, is a fatty substance that coats the inside of your ears, keeping them clean and protecting them from debris. But, it’s a delicate balance. Too much earwax can block your ear canal, leading to temporary hearing loss and even ear pain.
To start, don’t try to clean out your ear by yourself. Sticking foreign objects in your ear can pack the wax in tighter or even damage the ear. Make an appointment with your doctor and let them clean the ear for you.
Too little earwax can also cause problems. Without the protection that earwax provides, your ears may dry out and become infected. Read on to learn about other ear infection causes and what treatments are available.
One common cause of ear pain is an ear infection. Early ear infection symptoms include itching, fluid drainage, and redness. These symptoms will worsen if you don’t get treatment for the infection.
Infection can occur multiple ways. If you spend a lot of time in the water, you increase the risk of water remaining in your ears. This can lead to swimmer’s ear, an infection caused by water-loving bacteria flourishing inside your wet ear.
Bacteria may also grow inside your ears if you habitually insert foreign objects there, such as cotton swabs or even your fingers. These objects can cause small scratches and cuts inside the ear. This can in turn lead to bacterial growth and ear infection.
Ear infection treatment often includes medication and avoiding situations that could aggravate the infection. For example, if you swim a lot, you’ll want to carefully and thoroughly dry your ears afterwards and avoid swimming in dirty water.
If your ear infection lasts for three months or more, you may have a chronic ear infection. Some people, including those with Down syndrome or a cleft palate, are more susceptible to chronic ear infections than others. Chronic ear infection treatments usually include medication and having your doctor clean out the affected ear.
Your eardrum helps you hear and protects the middle ear from foreign objects. It may become damaged in several ways, from loud noise to air pressure changes.
A ruptured eardrum can lead to hearing loss, dizziness, and tinnitus (ringing in the ear). If this is the case for you, your eardrum will likely heal on its own. You can help the healing process by not putting anything in your ears. This includes cotton swabs, which can damage the eardrum.
Sometimes, a ruptured eardrum can cause or be caused by infection, though. In this case, you will need to seek treatment from your doctor.
Trauma can refer to physical damage, such as a blow to the head, that damages part of the ear. If you have suffered any sort of head injury, see your doctor or go to an emergency room right away. Head injuries can have serious consequences, especially for children.
However, not all trauma is physical. Frequent exposure to loud sounds, such as concerts, gunshots, or power tools, can cause acoustic trauma. Acoustic trauma happens because the vibrations from loud sounds destroy the delicate hair cells inside your ears. These hair cells are responsible for delivering sound to your brain. Once they are damaged, there is no way to repair or replace them; your hearing is diminished permanently.
Acoustic trauma should not be confused with acoustic shock. Acoustic shock results from brief, one-time exposure to a very loud noise. Unlike acoustic trauma, acoustic shock will not affect your hearing permanently, although you will have trouble hearing in the immediate aftermath. Other short-term symptoms include ear pain, facial pain, dizziness, and tinnitus. These symptoms generally resolve on their own, but in some cases, they may become chronic.
So how loud is too loud? That depends on the duration and frequency of exposure. Long-term exposure to 85 decibels (this is about the sound level of a motorcycle) can result in permanent hearing loss. Short-term symptoms include temporary hearing loss, ear pain, and tinnitus. The longer you are exposed to loud noises, the more likely it is to affect your hearing.
Regardless of if you already suffer from ear pain, or what your ear pain cause is, you should do your best to avoid noisy environments. If you can’t, wear ear protection and stay as far away from the source of the sound as possible.
Referred pain describes pain felt in one part of the body even though it originates in another.
For example, chronic conditions like fibromyalgia or trigeminal neuralgia may cause pain in multiple locations across the body, such as your face and head. But in rare cases, you may feel the pain in your ear as well, even though these conditions do not directly affect the ear. This is because of the elaborate network of nerves located in your ear.
Common treatments for fibromyalgia include pain relievers and physical therapy. Trigeminal neuralgia is often treated with anticonvulsants or, if that is insufficient, surgery. Since these are more complex health conditions, you’ll want to work closely with your doctor to treat them.
Earaches in kids
Beyond these common ear pain causes, are earaches in children. They’re generally more common than earaches in adults because children’s bodies and immune systems are not yet fully developed, leaving them especially vulnerable to infections.
Kids with earaches will exhibit many of the same symptoms as adults with earaches, including:
- Ear pain
- Fluid drainage
- Hearing problems
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, take them to see a doctor to find out what’s causing the problem. Your pediatrician will recommend different treatments depending on the reason for the earache.
If your child suffers from a chronic ear infection and regular treatments aren’t working, you may wish to consider a surgical solution. Persistent earaches in kids may be caused by infected adenoids, glands located behind your nasal cavity. If the adenoids become infected, they can cause ear pain and infections. An adenoidectomy involves the removal of the adenoids, which reduces your child’s risk of developing an ear infection.
An adenoidectomy is a relatively safe procedure that rarely results in complications. Nevertheless, like all surgical operations, it carries some degree of risk. You should therefore only consider it as a last resort. Talk to your doctor about what options are best for your child.
Find help for your ear pain
Ear pain can be a constant, debilitating type of pain, but there is help. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.