Ear pain can be extremely uncomfortable, as any sufferer knows, and you may be surprised to find that the discomfort often originates in areas other than the ear. Infections are frequently the cause of ear pain in children, but in older folks it may not be the case.
“Most of the time when your ear hurts, it’s not your ear’s fault,” says Dr. Oliver F. Adunka, a professor in the department of otolaryngology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “It’s usually an issue somewhere else that is referred to the ear.”
According to AARP, your ear, nose and throat doctor can usually get to the root of the problem. However, some symptoms such as blood or other drainage from the ear, sudden dizziness, or hearing loss, or ringing sounds may be signs of serious medical issues and require a more immediate visit to a medical professional.
Here are some common triggers for ear pain:
- TMJ. A sharp, stabbing pain in the ear may be caused by a jaw disorder such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) that affects the joint that connects the lower jaw to the head. Dr. Michael Gelb, a world-renowned expert in TMJ and the director of The Gelb Center with two locations in New York City and White Plains, New York, tells Newsmax that TMJ can trigger headaches and ear pain, as well as ringing in the ears. A dentist can help by fitting you with a mouth guard. Toothache pain can also manifest in the ears.
- Swimmer’s ear. Another very common cause of ear pain occurs when water becomes trapped in the outer ear, providing a moist environment for bacteria to grow and cause infection. Also called otitis externa, swimmer’s ear can be extremely painful, says Adunka, but can be easily treated with antibiotic eardrops. To help prevent the condition, dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or use ear plugs to keep water out of the ear canal. You can also use a blow dryer gently, at a very low setting, to remove excess moisture after swimming.
- Wax buildup. A buildup of wax can exert pressure in the ear, especially among older adults who wear hearing aids. Hydrogen peroxide is the best way to remove excess wax buildup at home, says WebMD. Try an ear drop made from hydrogen peroxide with equal parts water, mineral oil or olive oil. These liquids can help dissolve the wax or soften it. But experts advise seeing a doctor to ensure safe removal of excess ear wax.
- Face masks. If you wear a face mask all day, your ears may become sore from the loops. This can be especially true if you wear hearing aids. Some facial masks have straps that are like headbands and are more comfortable if the loop style is tugging your ears.
- Air pressure. Quick changes in air pressure on your ear drum, like traveling by plane or riding in in an elevator, can affect your ear, causing pain and popping. Use a nasal saline spray before air travel and chew gum or suck on candy during takeoff and landing. Yawning can also help relieve the pressure. Avoid air travel when you have a cold, sinus infection or allergy symptoms.
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