Earache, ear pain or otalgia can affect one or both ears that can be stabbing, throbbing or dull in characteristic. It is usually felt along with fullness as well as ringing of the ears. It can occur in a gradual manner, but some may experience earache suddenly especially when trauma is involved.
There are a lot of possible causes of earaches and it can also affect both children and adults and the causes may differ between the young and the old. Earache can be possibly caused by the following conditions:
- Middle Ear infection
The most common cause of earache among children is the presence of infection in the middle ear or what is known as otitis media. When infection on the middle ear is present, the inflammation and pressure in the middle ear makes the ear painful. Middle ear infection can be accompanied by drainage in the ear and a foul smelling odor. Middle ear infections are common in children, but adults are not exempted for such.
- Temporomandibular joint disorder
In adults, the presence of TMJ disorder can produce referred pain on the ears causing vague aches along the ear and jaw area.
- Foreign body on the ear
Ear pain can also be caused by the presence of a foreign body in the ear. Since the ear has a connection with the oral and nasal cavity through the Eustachian tube, any foreign body can limit the release of pressure in the ears causing the build-up of pressure leading to ear ache.
- Swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear can also cause ear ache. The condition is accompanied by a flaky and dry reddish outer ear. It is commonly experienced by swimmers; hence, the name.
- Presence of fluid in the ear
Aside from a foreign body obstruction in the ears, the presence of fluid inside can also cause ear pain as a result of the build-up of pressure in the ears.
- Damage to the eardrum
Any trauma to the ears especially the eardrum can cause earache. The most common injury is a ruptured eardrum than can lead to painful inflammation inside the ears.
Barotrauma involves pain in the ears as a result of changes in the atmospheric pressure. Barotrauma can be seen in people who are flying in the airplane or those who drive up or down a steep hill or mountain. Barotrauma can also occur in scuba divers leading to the rupture of their ear drums.
This condition is a collective term for trauma to the outside portion of the ears. It can be a result of ear piercing or any other trauma involving the outer ears.
- Other ears infections
Other ear infections such as myringitis, otitis externa, mastoiditis and ear cellulitis can contribute to ear pain. Varicella zoster virus infection of the facial nerve, known as Ramsay Hunt syndrome, can also cause earaches.
Secondary earache or pain resulting from conditions outside the ears can be caused by the following conditions:
- Trigeminal neuralgia
- Sore throat
- Dental conditions
- Malignancy on the head and neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- Arthritis of the TMJ
All of these factors are possible causes of earache so the next time you experience pain in your ears that don’t go away after 48 hours, consider seeking medical consult to diagnose the cause of the pain and employ appropriate measures.