Earaches are mostly common in children. Three out of four infants may suffer from ear pain. However, ear pain or earache does not exclude adults. It may affect one of your ear or both. You may experience ear pain for a short time, or it may become persistent. The severity of the ear pain varies from dull to sharp, or even burning depending upon the cause.
Ever experienced ear muffling or mild hear loss with earache after a long flight? Jetlag and earache are temporary. However, some earaches are so terrible that your body becomes “all ears” in a different way; the pain encompasses the whole body.
What Causes Earaches?
Your ear may hurt because of a problem in the ear’s inner, middle layer, or the outside. An earache does not necessarily occur due to an infection. Interestingly, sometimes, the ears are not responsible for an earache.
An earache may announce the arrival of cold, flu, or an infection. Multiple factors can cause mild to severe ear pain. Let’s have a look at some of the possible reasons for ear pain.
1) Earwax Blockage
The wax in our ear serves as a protective shield for the ear canal against water, bacteria, or an injury. Ear produces and gets rid of the wax itself. When the process gets affected due to any reason, excess wax builds up in the ear.
Hardened earwax blocks the ear canals, causing pressure, and sometimes pain in the ear. You may also feel sensation in the ear, or face hearing and ringing. Using cotton swabs to clear the wax may push it down further into the ear canal. The impacted ear may lead to itching, gunk discharge, or an ear infection.
2) Imbalanced Air Pressure
Behind our eardrum is a small, air-filled cavity, called the middle ear. A narrow passage known as the “Eustachian tube” connects our middle air to our throat through. It is the route through which air enters our middle air. This tube is responsible for equalizing the pressure on either side of our eardrums.
A sudden change in the air pressure –especially on a plane –may block the tube. Blockage in the Eustachian tube causes mild hearing loss, popping in the ear, muffling, or temporary ear pain. Chewing gum or swallowing may instantly relieve the pain.
3) Ear Infections
Swimmer’s ear is an outer ear infection causing itching and severe ear pain – especially while pulling your earlobe. It occurs when water gets trapped in the ear canal serving as a breeding ground for germs. Red, itchy-swollen ears with yellowish discharge, are common symptoms of this infection.
Middle Ear Infection
Otitis media or middle ear infection occurs when the fluid behind the eardrum builds up and gets infected. The infection may cause severe earache, fever, and in some cases, nasal congestion. Your eardrum may rupture because of the fluid buildup thereby causing ear drainage.
4) Other Causes
A neck or head injury may rupture your eardrum leading to severe earache, or a permanent hearing loss. Some ear pains do not originate in the ear; the sensation you feel in the brain, jaw, or throat may lead to earache.
For instance, a decayed or cracked tooth may cause pain in the ear too. Eroded temporomandibular joint (TMJ) –connecting the lower jaw to the skull –may cause tenderness around the ear canal.
Earaches can be extremely painful. Treatment of the earache depends on the root cause and intensity of the pain. Temporary ear pains are generally relieved with the over-the-counter products –such as ibuprofen, or naproxen.
You may rest your infected ear on a warm heating pad for comfort. Decongestants and antihistamines are also helpful for clearing the blockage in the Eustachian tube. It is better to seek medical help in case of chronic earaches.
Earaches can cause severe discomfort, and if not treated properly, may lead to other problems. For consultation and treatment, contact the best Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist in NYC today.
Michael C. Burnett, MD
115 East 57th Street Suite 600
Between Park + Lexington Avenues