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The most common causes of ear pain

The most common causes of ear pain

Learn about some causes of both inner ear pain and pain in the outer ear

What causes ear aches?

An ear ache is usually the sign of an infection, and is officially known as otitis media (OM) or the inflammation of the middle ear. It is usually caused by bacteria that materializes when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. They can also be caused by viral infections, which makes treatment more complicated because antibiotics won’t help in this instance.

Different types of ear pain include:

Ear pain can be caused by many things but it can be difficult to self diagnose. Ear pain can be related to the inner ear, outer ear, sudden pressure changes, when chewing, colds, or even allergies. Not all of these mean you have an ear infection, but the symptoms of ear infection include some, or all, of the following:

  • Ear pain: This symptom is obvious in older children and adults. In infants too young to speak, look for signs of pain like rubbing or tugging ears, crying more than usual, trouble sleeping, acting fussy/irritable. 
  • Loss of appetite: Pressure in the middle ear changes as you swallow, this can cause your ears to “pop” when you eat - a normal process made painful by the infection and causing a loss of appetite.
  • Irritability: Loss of appetite, pain, poor balance and fever can all cause irritability.
  • Poor sleep: The combination of ear pain and pressure can make it especially difficult to sleep.
  • Fever: Ear infections can cause temperatures from 100° F (38 C) up to 104° F. 
  • Drainage from the ear: Yellow, brown, or white fluid that is not earwax may seep from the ear. This may mean that the eardrum has ruptured (broken).
  • Trouble hearing: Bones of the middle ear connect to the nerves that send electrical signals (as sound) to the brain. Fluid behind the eardrums slows down movement of these electrical signals through the inner ear bones.
  • Poor Balance: Your ears help you maintain good balance, but an infected ear interferes with this system so you may feel dizzy.

Common causes of ear pain include:

Earwax can become impacted and cause ear pain. Don’t use a cotton swab or hairpin to clean it out. The safest way to clean out earwax is with a digital otoscope with soft silicone earwax spoons to gently scoop out the earwax.

Quick elevation changes are the most common cause of ear pain, but they are typically the easiest to fix. Usually, swallowing or chewing something like gum will cause you ears to pop and equalize the pressure between your inner and outer ear, thus relieving the discomfort.

If you are a swimmer a common source of ear pain is called “swimmer’s ear” and is caused by an infection from water getting trapped in your ear canal. If you think you are suffering from this, go see your doctor as you may need a round of antibiotics.

An ear ache is usually the sign of an infection, and is officially known as otitis media (OM) or the inflammation of the middle ear. It is usually caused by bacteria that materializes when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. They can also be caused by viral infections, which makes treatment more complicated because antibiotics won’t help in this instance.

Ear pain can also be caused by tooth infections as well as other ear-nose-throat maladies like tonsillitis. 

What to do if you are experiencing ear pain

Ear aches are a common ailment in children, but adults can also suffer from them. Ear pain can be caused by a number of things and if you think you have an infection you should see a doctor. Ear infections have a number of symptoms that should be kept track of if you want to get a proper diagnosis from your physician. A digital otoscope is a helpful tool to monitor your ears’ health and can guide whether you need to seek professional medical help or just treat the ear pain at home.

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