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7 Causes of Ear Pain You Should Know About

Earache is a common problem, especially in children. Though it isn’t a serious issue, the pain can be debilitating. While cold is a common reason behind an aching ear, there can be some other causes that you should know about.

Pain By Ariba Khaliq / Mar 24, 2015

What Causes Earache?

Ear pain occurs when the Eustachian tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat gets blocked. The Eustachian tube drains the fluids that is produced in the middle ear, so when it is blocked the fluid builds up, leading to pressure on the eardrum and the consequent pain. The build-up of the fluid may get infected causing ear infection. Normally, we assume that earache occurs because of ear infection, which is in fact true for most cases. Especially in children or infants, infection or cold is the most likely cause of ear pain. Ear pain in children can occur when the ear canal is irritated from swabs or other foreign material inside the ear. Sometimes, soap or shampoo that stays in the ear can cause the earache. Let’s check out some of the common causes of ear pain.

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Common cold is normally self limiting so it goes away on its own. However, do check with your health care practitioner, if the cold persists for more than 7 to 10 days, or if along with the cold there is shortness of breath, chest pain, or vomiting bouts. Symptoms: Fever, green or yellow mucus in the nose, difficulty sleeping, general muscle aches, and a throbbing pain in the ear.

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Otitis Media

Otitis media is the infection of the middle ear occurring mostly in children. Commonly known as just ‘ear infection’, the earache is very painful and comes on suddenly. The most common cause for infection is the virus for cold or flu, allergens such as dust or pollen, and secondary bacterial infections that actually are the most dangerous. Ear infection can be either acute, that is, short and painful, or, chronic infection, that is, repeated ear infection that occur, for example, 3-4 times in 6 months. Symptoms: High grade fever, persistent ear pain while lying down, difficulty hearing or temporary hearing loss, drainage of white, brown or bloody pus from the ear, and poor appetite.

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Ear Barotrauma

Ear barotrauma is a condition in which the difference between outside pressure and ear pressure causes injuries. The outside pressure can be air or water pressure, so ear barotrauma is generally experienced during airplane flights, skydiving, or scuba diving. Symptoms: A sensation that ears are stuffed and ear pain. Severe symptoms include extreme pain in the ear, vertigo, ruptured eardrum causing bleeding from the ear, and hearing loss.

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Ruptured Eardrum

Our ear canal is a tube of bones lined with thin, sensitive skin. So, any object that presses into this sensitive skin can be very painful. Symptoms: Bruising or redness, bleeding from the ears or pus coming out of the ears, dizziness, hearing loss, severe pain in the ear, noises in the ear, nausea and vomiting.

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Sinus Infection

Sinuses are air-filled spaces in the skull found behind the forehead, nasal bones, cheeks, and eyes. The sinuses and ears are connected inside the head. When the sinus becomes clogged, air pressure inside the ear is affected (remember barotrauma?). The change in air pressure causes pain in the ear. Symptoms: Bad breath or loss of smell, fever (high fever in children), cough that gets worse at night, fatigue, stuffy nose, sore throat, headache, pain in the face, earache.

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Tooth Infection

Sometimes a bacterial infection of the tooth can cause ear in the pain. A cavity in the tooth, chipped or broken tooth, all of these can cause tooth decay allowing bacteria to infect the pulp. The infection most of the time spreads to the bones supporting the tooth and causing severe pain. The pain in the ear occurs when the tooth-pain radiates along the nerve pathway and the nerve supplying the tooth runs very close to or is directly associated with the ear. Symptoms: Bitter taste in the mouth, bad breath, difficulty chewing, fever, swollen glands of the neck, swelling of the gum of the infected tooth, sometimes pain in the ear.

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Arthritis of the Jaw

Certain types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout can affect the jaw joint causing severe pain. Symptoms: Sharp, searing pain when you chew, yawn, or talk, jaw popping or clicking, locking of the jaw, and ear pain. Ear pain may be severe, but the cause of the earache is generally not very serious, unless of course if it is a malignant infection or a disease. OTC pain relievers and ear drops, compresses, and some home remedies can relieve the pain effectively in most cases.

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