Ear pain, medically known as otalgia, results from myriad reasons. It can develop because of a problem that directly affects the ear, or it happens in conjunction with another issue. This is what medical experts call “referred pain.” Ear pain can be minor or severe, and occasionally a sign of infection or underlying health issue.
Health experts recommend that you never ignore ear pain. Figuring out the cause can help you address it with the appropriate treatment. The sooner you treat your ear pain, the sooner that dull or sharp burning sensation in one or both ears can go away. Read on to learn about seven common causes of ear pain.
A sinus infection occurs when the sinuses, which are air-filled pockets located behind the forehead and eyebrows, become inflamed. Bacteria can cause sinuses to become inflamed, but so can viruses and fungi. Fluid accumulation in the sinuses is the most common symptom of a sinus infection. This inflammation can block or inflame the Eustachian tube, which can lead to ear pain. Sinus infection may also cause headache, facial pain, runny nose, and congestion.
Ear infections are most common among children, but anyone at any age can experience them. In children, the Eustachian tube clogs easily, but it should drain fluid made in the middle ear. If blockages occur, fluid builds up and a bacterial or viral infection in the middle ear can develop. Besides general ear pain, ear infection can cause congestion, ear drainage, fever, and other symptoms. Although mild ear infections tend to clear up on their own with home remedies, certain infections require antibiotic treatment.
Believe it or not, the body produces earwax to help keep the ears clean and protected from debris. Too much earwax can lead to buildup that partially or fully blocks the ear canal, which can cause ear pain. In most cases, you can resolve wax buildup at home or with expert-backed methods to flush out excess wax. If you have too much wax or you have difficulty removing it on your own, consult your healthcare provider for more help.
The Common Cold
The common cold can affect the way the Eustachian tube functions. This tube links the back of the nose to the middle ear and it protects, ventilates, and drains the middle ear. If something prevents this tube from doing its job, that is classified as Eustachian tube dysfunction. This typically happens when the tube’s lining becomes inflamed, which can result from the common cold. Besides ear pain that results from a cold, Eustachian tube dysfunction can make your ear feel full, causing you to not hear as well or hear popping sounds.
Exposure to dust, pollen, mold, or other allergens can irritate the sinuses, which causes sneezing, runny nose, or itchy eyes. In some cases, fluid may build up in the sinuses and cause inflammation of the Eustachian tube. As you know by now, swelling of the Eustachian tube can lead to ear pressure and general ear pain.
Despite the name, this condition doesn’t always result from swimming or water activities. It refers to an infection, irritation, or inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal. More often than not, it’s caused by bacteria from unclean water that gets into the ear. Swimmer’s ear can cause discharge to leak from the ear, but it also can cause ear pain, itchiness, and swelling. Because the infection can spread to other parts of the ear and worsen, contact a healthcare provider to examine this issue as soon as possible.
Air Pressure Changes
If you drive in mountainous areas, dive underwater, or fly in a plane, you know that your ears pop. Pressure inside the ear is different from the pressure outside, so the ear has to adjust, but it doesn’t always pop the way you’d hope. This is why many people recommend yawning, chewing gum, or swallowing to stabilize the pressure and resolve the pain. If these things do not resolve the issue for several hours, you may need to see a healthcare provider, especially if you develop a fever, ear drainage, or severe ear pain. Untreated cases of ear barotrauma can damage the eardrum and cause hearing loss.