Ear Pain Isn’t Always About Your Ear: 3 Other Causes

Otolaryngologist examining a kid ear in a clinic

In many cases, ear pain is caused by an infection of the ear canal. But did you know some ear pain may not be connected to ear-related problems at all? Many of these problems require a physician’s knowledge to distinguish one problem from another. But here are a few other causes of ear pain you may not know about.

1. Otitis Media

Otitis media is a group of diseases, most prevalent in the younger age groups, and is an infection of the eardrum. It often happens because of inadequate development in the Eustachian tube.

Adults may develop otitis media if they have bad allergies which lead to an ear infection. In some cases, a head cold could lead to dysfunction in the Eustachian tube, which could then lead to an ear infection.

Read More: 9 Myths About Ear Infections in Children

2. Acute Otitis Externa (“Swimmer’s Ear”)

Swimmer’s ear is a common ear ailment — so common that it’s not even limited to frequent swimmers. Swimmer’s ear can happen to anyone who happens to get extra moisture in the ear. It can come from something as common as an extra shower a day.

Despite what you may think, swimmer’s ear does not involve the eardrum. It’s an infection of the skin of the ear canal itself. However, it takes a physician to diagnose the difference between swimmer’s ear and an ear canal infection, and both ailments are treated differently. If you are experiencing pain and redness in the outer ear and think you might have swimmer’s ear, you should probably see a physician.

3. Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ)

TMJ has nothing to do with the ear but often results in ear pain. Why? When the jaw joint is directly in front of the ear experiences stress, it can irritate the joint. This irritation can come from gum chewing, clenching or grinding one’s teeth, or personal stress. This irritation manifests as pain in the ear, even though it has nothing to do with the ear at all.

Physicians often see a spike in TMJ during the holidays and winter season, due to the increased stress. As with swimmer’s ear, it often takes a physician’s expertise to distinguish the ailment from others like it.

When to See a Physician

Why should you see an ENT when you’re experiencing ear pain? Because ENTs like to rule out the possibility of more serious conditions.

For example, throat cancer on one side of the throat can create referred pain in the ear. Because cases of HPV have increased nationwide, you can develop throat cancer even if you’re not a smoker. So if you’re experiencing ear pain, it’s best to consult an ENT even if you don’t smoke.

Other conditions that can cause ear pain include inflammation or infection of salivary glands, which are close to the ears. Allergies can cause ear pain or pressure that does not normally stabilize.

In most cases, ear pain is likely to be a simple infection or one of the conditions listed above. When you schedule a visit with an ENT, we perform an exam of the ear canal, eardrum, throat, back of the nose, and neck, to rule out these possibilities, and any other possibilities of an unusual source.

If you have questions about possible sources of ear pain or want to get your ear pain checked out, contact Virginia ENT today to schedule an appointment.