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Ear Pain - Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Ear Pain - Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Ear pain is a common symptom, which can vary from mild to severe. Read the article to understand the cause of ear pain.

Medically reviewed by

iCliniq medical review team

Published At April 15, 2016
Reviewed AtAugust 2, 2023


Ear discomfort or earache can come from any of the three components of the ear. One may experience discomfort in one of the three parts of the ear, the outer, middle, or inner. An issue near the ear, such as sinusitis, temporomandibular joint disorders, or a tooth infection, can potentially be the cause of ear pain. A medical professional can start making a diagnosis based on the type of ear pain one is feeling (for example., hurting, sharp, dull, etc.), how intense it is, where it is, and other symptoms like fever and dizziness. Depending on the underlying diagnosis, a medical professional will develop a treatment plan for ear discomfort that may combine various therapies.

What Are the Causes of Ear Pain?

It is simpler to think about primary diagnoses, which originate inside the ear, and secondary diagnoses, which originate outside the ear, separately because there are numerous potential reasons for ear discomfort.

Primary Causes:

The following are some conditions that frequently result in ear pain that comes from within the ear:

  • Otitis Media: The term otitis media refers to an infection of the middle ear in which the space between the eardrum (tympanic membrane) and the oval window of the inner ear becomes clogged with fluid and inflammatory tissue. Along with mild to severe agonizing pain deep inside the ear, individuals might also have nasal congestion and cough for a few days before the earache. An occasional fever could happen.

  • Otitis Media With Effusion: Otitis media with effusion (OME) is the term used to describe middle ear fluid when there are no visible symptoms of infection. In other words, tissue inflammation is absent, but there is fluid buildup. Overall, OME-related ear pain is typically modest and accompanied by a sense of ear fullness or diminished hearing.

  • Swimmer's Ear (External Otitis): The symptoms of external otitis, an infection of the ear canal, include ear fullness, itching, and severe ear pain when the earlobe is pulled. Along with diminished hearing and ear canal enlargement, yellowish or transparent ear fluid may also manifest. External otitis is sometimes referred to as ‘swimmer's ear’ because it occurs when water accumulates in the ear canal. The regular use of cotton swabs is another prevalent cause of external otitis. Small cuts in the ear canal caused by inserting them into the ear can serve as an ideal environment for bacteria.

  • Perichondritis: Perichondritis, which causes pain, swelling, and redness all over the skin, results from an infection of the cartilage in the ear. Additionally, a fever and an abscess can occasionally develop. Without therapy, perichondritis can cause ear deformity because the infection shuts off the blood supply to the cartilage, damaging it.

Secondary Causes:

Despite the fact that they start outside the ear, many illnesses can nevertheless result in ear pain.

  • Sinusitis: The term ‘sinusitis’ describes an infection or inflammation of the sinuses, which are hollow cavities in the cheekbones, lower forehead, and area behind the nose. Only a small portion of sinusitis instances are brought on by a bacterial infection; the majority are brought on by a viral infection or allergies.

  • Dental Issues: Pain in the ear may be referred from dental issues such as a fractured tooth, decayed tooth, or tooth abscess. Typically, hot or cold stimuli, biting, or chewing make the pain worse.

  • Disorder of the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ): The lower jaw is joined to the skull's temporal bone via the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). TMJ problems may be brought on by arthritis, joint erosion, or overuse-induced stress on the surrounding muscles. TMJ dysfunction discomfort is frequently described as a persistent, dull jaw joint pain that gets worse when one opens or closes the mouth. Also typical are headaches and ear canal pain.

How to Diagnose Ear Pain?

A health care practitioner or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist may just require a medical history and physical examination to diagnose ear pain. Less frequently, blood tests and imaging are required.

  • Medical History: When individuals visit the physician for ear discomfort, they may anticipate him to ask them various questions about the specifics of their condition.

  • Visual Inspection: A healthcare provider will use an otoscope to examine the outer ear, ear canal, and tympanic membrane (eardrum) during the physical examination. Additionally, he might apply pressure to the TMJ, check the back molars for indications of teeth grinding or frequent clenching, and examine the neck for any tumors or swollen lymph nodes.

  • Blood Testing: Blood testing can aid with the diagnosis of a number of ear pain problems.

What Options Are There for Treating Ear Pain?

There are as many possible treatments as there are ear pain's many diverse causes. The best course of treatment will depend on what is causing the earache in the first place.

Ear Irrigation:

A healthcare provider flushes the ears to get rid of wax that has become impacted. In the course of treating otitis externa, the process is also utilized to remove debris, infectious material, and dead skin cells.


The ear pain may be treated with a variety of drugs:

1. Ear Drops: If individuals have earwax buildup, healthcare professionals might suggest earwax-softening drops. Ear drops are also the main therapy for external otitis. Antibiotics, acidifying solutions, and steroids are just a few of the many varieties of ear drops that are offered. Many of these ear drops act together to lessen pain, cure the infection, and reduce inflammation.

2. Intravenous or Oral Antibiotics: When treating more serious ear pain reasons, such as those listed below, oral or intravenous antibiotics may be necessary.

  • Sinusitis caused by bacteria.

  • Cases of necrotizing (malignant) external otitis, among other severe cases of external otitis.

  • Perichondritis.

  • Periauricular cellulitis.

3. Drugs That Reduce Pain: The doctor may advise using Acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen to relieve the earache. The physician can suggest a muscle relaxant or a tricyclic antidepressant to treat the TMJ condition pain.


Children's appointments with their doctors are most frequently caused by earaches and ear infections. Adults get earaches for common causes, including temporomandibular joint syndrome or barotrauma, from traveling in an airplane. Due to the fact that earaches are a typical issue, people could be tempted to disregard the hurting ears. However, earaches can get worse if left untreated. Additionally, earaches could be an indication of more serious underlying medical issues. Anytime if worried about earaches, discuss them with a healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the role of a nephrologist?

If you are experiencing symptoms that suggest kidney problems, then a nephrologist is the doctor to consult as they diagnose and treat conditions of the kidneys. Nephrologists are trained to handle kidney problems like chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, renal failure, and they have extensive knowledge about dialysis and kidney transplantation.


Are urologists and nephrologists the same?

The duties of doctors from both these specialties vary only slightly. Both specialists treat conditions affecting the kidneys. But a urologist is more focused on the anatomical and structural problems of the urinary tract, which includes kidneys. Some examples are kidney stones, kidney cancer, and kidney obstruction. A nephrologist, on the other hand, focuses more on how the kidneys function, and how other conditions affect this functioning. For example, the effects of diabetes and high blood pressure on the kidneys.


Can a nephrologist perform surgeries?

No, nephrologists are not surgeons and usually do not perform surgeries. They sometimes might collect tissue samples from the kidney to diagnose a condition.


What to expect during your first nephrologist visit?

On your first visit, like all other doctors, the nephrologist will take a complete history, which includes medical history, family history, and symptoms. If needed, he or she might perform a physical examination. They will check for other medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, or autoimmune disease that can affect kidney health.


When is it best to consult a nephrologist?

It is best to consult a nephrologist if you experience signs and symptoms like reduced urine output, swollen ankles and feet, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, and seizures, as these are signs of kidney problems.


What are the diseases that a nephrologist treats?

The conditions that a nephrologist treats are blood in urine, chronic kidney disease, kidney infection, kidney cancer, polycystic kidney disease, end-stage kidney disease, and kidney failure.


What are the first and early signs of kidney problems?

Fatigue or tiredness, feeling cold when it is warm outside, shortness of breath, feeling dizzy, confusion, feeling itchy, swelling in hands and feet, puffy face, foamy urine, and blood in the urine are some of the early signs and symptoms of kidney problems.


What creatinine level is considered to be dangerous?

The normal creatinine level in men is 0.7 to 1.3 mg.dL and in women is 0.6 to 1.1 mg/dL. Any value more than this is considered to be abnormal and indicates some extent of renal failure.


How does one feel when the kidneys hurt?

Pain in the kidney is usually felt as a dull ache on the side of the affected kidney. This pain aggravates if you injure that area or press on it.
Dr. Ashok Kumar Srivastava
Dr. Ashok Kumar Srivastava

Otolaryngology (E.N.T)


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