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What Causes Red Ear Syndrome?

Red ear syndrome is linked to headaches.
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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2014
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The causes of red ear syndrome, a condition that was first described in the 1990s, are not well understood. It is connected to headaches, especially migraines, though the symptoms of the disorder can occur along with other types of headaches, or along with injuries to the brain or neck. There are also many instances of this condition which do not seem to have any obvious causes. These can be triggered by simple movements of the neck or jaw.

A study in 2010 showed a connection between red ear syndrome and migraine headaches in children. Observations made on over 200 children between the ages of 4 and 17 showed that 23% of children with migraines had red ear symptoms, whereas only 4% of children with other types of headaches displayed the symptoms of red ear. The study also found that males were more likely than females to have these symptoms.

While children with migraines were much more likely than children with other types of headache to have red ear syndrome, it can appear as a symptom of other headaches as well. Both adults and children can develop redness, heat and soreness in one or both ears along with trigeminal autonomic cephalalgiascluster disorders, including cluster headaches. An injury to the third vertebrae in the neck can also trigger neck and head pain that can lead to this syndrome.

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Damage to the thalamus can also lead to red ear syndrome. People with this condition experience a hypersensitivity to pain because of damage to the thalamus in the brain. This section of the brain is responsible for triggering the pain sensation in the body.

Aside from these conditions that are known to be connected to this syndrome, the disorder can develop without an obvious cause. Pain, heat, and redness can occur in one or both ears as a result of touching the ear or moving the neck or jaw. These attacks often come on suddenly and can last for up to a couple of hours. An attack of red ear syndrome due to movement or physical contact with the ear, however, does not necessarily occur every time that the trigger occurs.

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magicsteve
Post 1

Red Ear Syndrome has been the bane of my existence for almost 60 years. I believe the source was exposure to frigid weather when I was a youngster without earmuffs or other protection. I grew up outside of Boston. It was not uncommon to return home with hands (and ears) so cold that placing my hands under running cold water would feel as if they were in steaming hot water. My ears were colder yet. I suspect some sort of tissue damage occurred (need more evidence). It used to be that both ears would get hot simultaneously. That symptom went away thirty years ago. I almost never have it now. It is just the right ear.

Temporary relief is obtained by holding one's head under a cold water faucet and permitting the water to cover the ear, or by placing a cold item such as a cold, wet cloth or an ice cube against the offending ear.

Solution: I have found that the ear can be returned to normal until the next episode by cooling the ear to 65 or 70 degrees. This is most easily done by climbing into a car and driving with the A/C on full blast and the vents pointing directly at the hot ear or ears. This will provide immediate relief of the uncomfortable sensation due to the syndrome. Better yet, if the A/C is in proper working order, the vent air should be about 45 degrees F. Maybe as low as 38 degrees. Cool off that ear for 15 or 20 minutes (getting the ear very cold). The syndrome will have stopped and the annoyance will have disappeared until the next episode.

It used to be that anything that physically touched my ears would set them off or for no apparent reason. Now, I find that a warm room or environment or physically exerting myself for more than a half hour can bring onset. I haven't experimented with touching my ears. That used to set them off.

Lastly, I am still catching the hot ear symptoms about once a week. Over the years, I have had spans of 6 to 10 months with virtually no incidents. Then they return. I hope this will be helpful.

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