Earaches are a common and easy-to-recognize problem. The type of pain varies from person to person; it may be sharp, dull or burning. The condition can affect one or both ears, and can either last a short time or be chronic.
Common Causes of Earache
Ear infections are a common cause of earache. They are usually categorized according to the part of the ear in which they occur.
- Outer ear infection (otitis externa) occurs in the ear canal
- Middle ear infection (otitis media) occurs in the space behind the eardrum
Not all earaches are associated with ear infections. Below are other possible causes:
- Earwax blockage or foreign body in ear
- Injury to the inside of the ear – An example is a punctured eardrum, which can happen during cleaning.
- Throat infection – Earaches can be a symptom of throat infections such as tonsillitis or quinsy, both of which also make swallowing painful.
- Dental abscess – This is a bacterial infection that causes pus to collect in your gums. The resulting pain sometimes spreads from the tooth and gums to the ear or ears.
- TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders – Earache is a common symptom of TMJ problems, along with biting or chewing discomfort and tinnitus or ringing in the ears.
How to Pinpoint an Ear Infection
Pain associated with ear infection is often sudden in onset, severe in the beginning and may be accompanied by fluid (effusion) coming out of the ear. Other accompanying symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Temporary and mild hearing loss
When an ear infection is suspected, either of the following diagnostic examinations can be performed:
- Visual and pneumatic otoscopy – A visual otoscope allows a doctor to look for signs of infection in the patient’s ear. One example would be a visibly red or swollen eardrum. A pneumatic otoscope, on the other hand, is used to blow a small amount of air at the eardrum. Any fluid present inside the ear will affect the way the eardrum moves in response to the trigger.
- Tympanometry – Similar to pneumatic otoscopy, tympanometry checks for fluid in the middle ear by testing the movement of the eardrum. It does this using both sound and air pressure.
Treatment for earaches not associated with infection requires getting to the root of the problem. Earwax buildup and foreign bodies need to be removed; injuries allowed to heal; and throat infections, dental abscesses and TMJ disorders dealt with at the source.
As for ear infections, most cases last only a few days or weeks without treatment, although prescriptions may be given to ease the symptoms or shorten healing time.
- Outer ear infection – Otitis externa can be treated with simple self-care techniques or with the use of antibiotics, antifungals, corticosteroids (for swelling) or acidic eardrops.
- Middle ear infection – Self-care techniques combined with over-the-counter painkillers can help ease the pain associated with otitis media.
Most doctors will only consider the use of antibiotics in cases where there is a higher risk of complications.
If you are experiencing earaches, schedule an appointment at a Sugar Land Physicians near you. Our healthcare professionals are ready to provide high-quality medical care for a wide variety of ear conditions seven days a week, including extended weekday hours. Look for us at your nearest Rite Aid Pharmacy.