What is the Most Common Cause of Ear Pain?

B. Miller

The most common cause of ear pain is an ear infection or a buildup of fluid in the Eustachian tubes, which can lead to an ear infection as well. This cause of ear pain can be treated with antibiotics, and is most common in children but can occur in people of any age. An actual injury to the ear can lead to pain, which can occur in the inner or outer ear; this is one of the reasons doctors advise never to insert anything into the ears, because it is possible to rupture the eardrum. Sometimes, pain in the tooth or jaw can spread and cause ear pain as well.

Ear piercings can cause pain.
Ear piercings can cause pain.

Ear infections, a common cause of ear pain, can be either bacterial or viral in origin and often cause a fever as well. Bacterial infections may be treated with antibiotics, while viral infections require time heal on their own. Infections of the middle ear that are most common in children often occur because the Eustachian tubes become blocked, and don't always respond well to antibiotics. Kids often experience recurring ear infections, and may eventually require surgery or fluid drainage in order to help treat the infections. It is possible for anyone to get ear infections, however, which is why it is important to keep all objects out of the ears and to ensure they do not become clogged with water, such as when swimming.

Buildup of fluid in the middle ear is a common cause of ear pain.
Buildup of fluid in the middle ear is a common cause of ear pain.

Another common cause of ear pain is actual injury to the ear. Inserting items in the ear can cause damage or a ruptured eardrum, but it is also possible to injure the outer ear in a myriad of ways. Piercings that do not heal properly or become infected, for example, can be quite painful. Even sleeping on the ear in an uncomfortable position can cause pain the next day, though this is usually very short lived.

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Chewing gum can relieve ear pressure caused by changes in barometric pressure when flying.
Chewing gum can relieve ear pressure caused by changes in barometric pressure when flying.

Issues with the rest of the head and neck can also cause ear pain. Muscle tightness or stiffness in the neck often causes pain to migrate up the face and into the ear. In addition, an infected tooth or problem with the jaw, such as TMJ, will often cause corresponding pain in the ear. In such a case, it will be necessary to treat the origin of the pain in order to relieve the ear pain. Some people experience ear pain when flying in an airplane was well, but find that chewing gum or yawning can help to relieve the pressure buildup in the inner ear and prevent the pain.

Neck stiffness can lead to ear pain.
Neck stiffness can lead to ear pain.
Labyrinthitus, an infection of the inner ear, can trigger dizziness and hamper a person's overall sense of balance.
Labyrinthitus, an infection of the inner ear, can trigger dizziness and hamper a person's overall sense of balance.
Yawning may help relieve ear pressure.
Yawning may help relieve ear pressure.
While somewhat painful, ear pressure can often be equalized by hold the nostrils closed, while blowing.
While somewhat painful, ear pressure can often be equalized by hold the nostrils closed, while blowing.
Bacterial and viral infections can also cause ear pain.
Bacterial and viral infections can also cause ear pain.
If ear pain persists it may be necessary to consult a doctor.
If ear pain persists it may be necessary to consult a doctor.

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Discussion Comments

ysmina

Can dental infections cause ear pain?

I've been experiencing inner ear pain for the past two weeks. I can't figure out what might be causing it. The only thing that comes to mind is a recent tooth infection I had, but it was treated with antibiotics.

I do have ear pain when I take flights, but I haven't taken a flight since last year, so that can't be it either.

Could my tooth infection affect my ear?

candyquilt

@ZipLine-- You need to wear ear plugs while swimming to keep the water out of your ears. Earaches after swimming (also called "swimmer's ear") is caused by water getting into the ear.

If you get water in your ear, you can get it out by sleeping on that ear at night. Ear drops are another option, you can find these at the pharmacy or have your doctor prescribe it for you. I personally use a few drops of sweet oil (olive oil) in each ear to get the water out and prevent infections.

ZipLine

How can I relieve ear pain from swimming?

I have tendinitis in my feet and my doctor recommended swimming instead of jogging since it's easier on the skeletal system. I've been swimming several times a week and it's great except for the earache I have afterward.

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