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Causes of ear pain

Understanding the factors behind ear pain

Ear pain can occur in the inner, middle, or outer ear, and it is not always linked to a particular disease or infection. The severity of ear pain can vary from mild to severe, depending largely upon the underlying cause. Therefore, if you're experiencing ear pain, it's best to seek guidance from a specialist to identify its root cause.

What triggers earache?

Ear pain can stem from various causes, with inflammations like otitis and myringitis being common triggers. Other triggers include different types of allergies, prolonged coughing, dental and jaw issues, swollen or blocked Eustachian tubes, ear canal obstructions, shingles, mumps-related parotid gland inflammation, frostbite, cancerous conditions in nearby organs, drastic atmospheric pressure changes, and headaches.

Internal factors resulting in ear pain

  • Inflammation of the external ear canal: also known as otitis externa, this condition triggers an inflammation of the skin lining the outer ear canal, starting at the ear opening and often extending to the eardrum. The canal's S-shape protects the eardrum from potential harm. 
  • Acute or chronic otitis media: this painful condition affecting the area behind the eardrum is caused by bacteria or viruses, such as colds or tonsillitis. It often affects infants and young children but can also occur in older children and adults.

External factors leading to ear pain

Various conditions in different parts of the head and neck can contribute to ear discomfort, including:

  • Dental or thermomandibular issues
  • Cervical disorders
  • Throat infections or tonsillitis
  • Abscesses near the tonsils
  • Sinus infections
  • Tumors in the head or throat
  • Nerve inflammation around the ear.

Earache caused by trapped water in the ear

Most people have encountered the discomfort of water becoming trapped in their ears after a shower or a swim. Typically, this sensation resolves on its own, but occasionally, when water lingers in the ear canal, it creates a moist environment that triggers ear infections. Therefore, if water is trapped in your ears, it is best to adress it promptly to prevent discomfort and protect your ear health.

Ear pain resulting from injuries to the eardrum

A perforated eardrum occurs when there is a tear in the membrane that separates the outer and inner parts of the ear. Apart from shielding the inner ear from germs, the eardrum also plays a crucial role in transmitting sound waves to the middle ear. Seeking prompt medical attention at the first sight of symptoms can help prevent potential complications and promote a smoother recovery process.

Ear pain caused by unfavorable pressure conditions

You've likely experienced that uncomfortable pressure in your ears while driving in the mountains or during take-off and landing on a flight. Usually, it goes away pretty quickly but, in some cases, it may linger and it is common to continue to feel pressure or pain in your ear, or hear muffled sounds. If these symptoms persist even after swallowing or yawning, your ear might be struggling to adjust to the pressure changes or it might be swollen. In such cases, it's a good idea to see an ear doctor who can diagnose the problem and suggest the most adequate treatment.

Does tooth pain contribute to earache?

Toothaches and ear pain can be related. In fact, in some cases if you have a dental problem, like an infected wisdom tooth, you might also feel pain in your ear and throat. This can make it easy to mistake tooth pain for another pathology. For this reason, if you notice red gums, have toothache or ear pain, it's important to contact your dentist as soon as possible for an X-ray to find out if the problem is coming from your teeth.

When to consult a specialist

If you experience persistent ear pain, hearing loss, infections, tinnitus, balance issues or trauma, make sure to consult an ear specialist to identify the underlying cause and determine the best treatment options based on your specific hearing needs. 

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