Ear pain in most cases comes from either the outer ear or middle ear.
The outer ear is the most exterior part of the ear and consists of both the pinna and the ear canal. The various causes and treatments of outer ear pain can include:
- SWIMMER’S EAR (External Otitis): Is very painful and occurs when the ear canal becomes wet. Bacteria and fungus love the warm, wet, and dark environment, and can multiply causing infection and swelling. Treatment can involve antibiotic ear drops, antibiotic medications and keeping the ear dry.
- EAR CANAL TRAUMA: Can occur from scratching the skin lining the ear canal as this skin is extremely thin and sensitive. Most treatment involved simple observation and at times antibiotic ear drops may have to be prescribed.
DO NOT PUT ANYTHING SMALLER THAN YOUR ELBOW IN YOUR EAR CANAL.
- NEURALGIA: Is a term used to describe inflammation of the nerves around the ear causing a pain that feels like a jabbing or stabbing inside the ear. One of the most common causes of ear neuralgia is TMJ.
- TMJ: Refers to inflammation involving the “jaw joint”. Because this joint lies just below the ear canal, pain from this joint can be referred to the ear via nerves that are “shared” by both areas.
- TUMORS: Are very uncommon cases of pain of the outer ear.
- REFERRED PAIN: Due to shared nerve supply, rarely a throat condition, but can cause ear pain.
The middle ear consists of the eardrum and the area directly behind the eardrum known as the middle ear space. This space also contains 3 bones which move in response to the vibration of the ear drum. The various causes and treatments of middle ear pain include:
- OTITIS MEDIA: Refers to infections of the middle ear. This can often occur after an upper respiratory tract infection that reaches the middle ear via the Eustachian tube. This is most commonly treated with oral antibiotics.
- CHOLESTEATOMA: Is a benign skin tumor that can grow within the middle ear space and cause infection, drainage, and ear pain. This needs to be treated surgically.
- EUSTACHIAN TUBE DYSFUNCTION (ETD): The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear cavity with the throat. It helps aerate and drain the middle ear space. When this tube does not function, often due to colds or sinus infections, fluid and/or pressure can build up in the middle ear space and cause pain. People may also experience some hearing loss. Treatment of ETD includes oral and nasal decongestants and the valsalva maneuver (pinching the nostrils and blowing hard against them). In severe cases, draining the fluid through the eardrum or placing a tube within the eardrum may be necessary