Problem of the week – Ear pain

One of the most common problems seen this week was ear pain medically also known as otalgia.  It’s best to break down ear pain into 2 types, infectious and referred otalgia which I will describe briefly below:

Infectious ear pain:

  1. External Otitis or an outer ear infection – This is an infection of the ear canal more common in the summer time as persistent moisture in the ear can foster bacterial growth.  It is often triggered by qtip use which abrades the ear canal and promotes bacterial growth.  The treatment needed is ear drops.
  2. Middle Ear Infection or Otitis Media – This is an infection of the eardrum and middle ear space.  It is quite common in children and often triggered with colds and sinus infections.  The treatment is typically antibiotics though many infections can resolve on their own.  It is not unusual for fluid to persist behind the eardrum and cause hearing loss for 2 to 4 weeks after the infection is gone.

Referred Otalgia – Referred otalgia is pain felt in the ear from a separate cause that manifest ifself as ear pain.  The most common cause of referred otalgia is Temporomandibularjoint pain often known as TMJ.  The sensory nerves to the jaw joint go to the ear as well and the pain feels clearly in the ear.  Dental problems often manifest in the ear as well.  Another cause is an infection in the throat which is felt in the ear.  Finally their can be a hidden tumor in the throat presenting as ear pain, and it is one of the main reasons that an ear exam is indicated for persistent ear pain.

As one can see their are many causes of ear pain, some from the ear and many from other sources.  A thorough exam is indicated to identify the cause and initiate proper treatment.

As always, we are available to sort out any ear problems you have and we welcome you to call and come in for an appointment.

Dr Bert Brown

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