5 Causes of Ear Pain: A Self-Help Guide

Determine what might be causing your ear pain.

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doctor determining the cause of ear pain for a patient

While ear pain can certainly be worrying, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an infection. Even the slightest change in air pressure or the change in seasons can cause some people to experience a dull, sharp, or burning sensation in one or both ears. For help determining what’s causing your ear pain and if you need to see a physician, continue reading below.

What are the most common causes for earaches and pain?

To properly treat an earache, you must learn about typical ear pain reason to determine what’s causing the pain. Below are the five most common causes of ear pain and remedies for each cause.

1. Earache from Allergies

Could you be suffering from an earache from allergies? Absolutely! If you experience sinus congestion and inflammation due to seasonal allergies, it’s possible to experience earaches. Because allergies cause the release of histamines in your body, the mucous membranes in your nose and ears can become inflamed, causing blockages in the ears and nose. While the blockage itself can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to hear, it may eventually lead to pain caused by fluid and mucus being unable to drain.

To avoid ear pain caused indirectly by allergies, be proactive during allergy season or when you’re surrounded by your allergens. Take over-the-counter allergy relief medicine, or visit your primary care doctor to choose a prescription allergy medicine.

2. Excessive or Impacted Earwax

Another common cause of ear pain is a build up of earwax. While some earwax is necessary for your ears to keep germs and bacteria out of the ear canal, excessive earwax may result in earaches and even infections. While some earwax removal can be done at home using earwax removal kits, it is typically best to rely on your doctor to handle earwax extraction. Methods of earwax removal that you should absolutely not use include:

  • Q-tips or cotton swabs– These products tend to push the wax further into the ear, and can even cause damage to the ear canal or eardrum.
  • Ear candling– Although popular and heavily advertised, ear candling is not proven to be an effective treatment for any ear condition.

The best way to remove excessive earwax is by visiting your doctor for professional earwax extraction. A doctor may use methods like irrigation or tools like a curet to remove wax.

3. Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is the most prevalent type of outer ear infection. Swimmer’s ear is most commonly caused by moisture trapped in the ear, allowing bacteria and fungus to penetrate the ear canal. This bacteria may lead to redness, inflammation, itchiness, and ultimately, pain.

While swimmer’s ear is most commonly contracted by swimming, it may also be caused by cotton swabs damaging the skin in your ear canal, having narrow ear canals, or having a skin condition. Treatment for this condition is dependent on the cause, but usually requires ear drops, anti-fungal medicines, or microsuction. Pain relievers with acetaminophen or ibuprofen may also lessen pain and discomfort.

To minimize your risk of contracting swimmer’s ear, avoid all of the following if possible:

  • Swimming in pools or lakes with high levels of bacteria
  • Using headphones and hearing aids
  • Using cotton swabs or your finger to clean or scratch your ear
  • Humid weather or heavy perspiration

While some of these risk factors are easy to avoid, some are inevitable. With that said, the best thing you can do is try your best to keep your ears dry.

4. Changes in Air Pressure

If you’ve recently traveled or ridden in an elevator, it’s possible your ear is hurting due to abrupt changes in air pressure. While your ears typically keep pressures equal on either side of the eardrum, quick changes in air pressure can cause an imbalance in pressure and ultimately result in an earache.

To avoid ear pain caused by changes in air pressure:

  • Chew gum
  • Yawn or swallow
  • Pinch your nostrils and gently exhale through your nose

If you are sick– particularly with a sinus infection, ear infection, or a cold– avoid traveling by plane as changes in air pressure may amplify your ear pain.

5. Ear Infections

Middle ear infections, or acute otitis media, are another common cause of ear pain. Middle ear infections occur when there is a virus or bacteria in the middle ear, and typically happen as a result of a cold, flu, or allergies. Signs you may have an ear infection include ear pain, trouble hearing, fever, and drainage from the ear.

To prevent middle ear infections, take the following steps:

  • Regularly wash your hands– especially during cold and flu season.
  • Take allergy medicine if you suffer from allergies.
  • Steer clear of secondhand smoke.
  • Ask your primary care physician (PCP) about vaccinations.

What precautions can I take to prevent ear pain?

Preventing ear pain involves taking steps to protect your ears and minimize potential triggers. Here are some precautions you can take to reduce the risk of experiencing ear pain:

  • Practice Good Ear Hygiene: Avoid inserting objects such as cotton swabs or fingers into your ear canal, as this can push wax deeper and potentially cause injury. Instead, gently clean the outer part of your ears with a washcloth.
  • Protect Your Ears from Water: Use earplugs or a swim cap to prevent water from entering your ears while swimming or showering, which can lead to conditions like swimmer’s ear. After swimming or showering, tilt your head to the side to help water drain out of your ears.
  • Equalize Air Pressure: When flying or ascending to high altitudes, chew gum, yawn, or swallow to help equalize the pressure in your ears and prevent discomfort.
  • Use Headphones Wisely: Keep the volume at a reasonable level to prevent hearing damage, which can lead to ear pain and other hearing-related issues. Take breaks from using headphones or earbuds to allow your ears to rest.
  • Address Allergies and Sinus Issues: Allergies and sinus problems can contribute to ear discomfort. Stay on top of these conditions with appropriate allergy medications and treatments suggested by your doctor.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help prevent dryness in the ear canal and reduce the risk of ear pain.
  • Avoid Smoking and Secondhand Smoke: Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can irritate the delicate structures of the ear and increase the risk of infections.

Remember that everyone’s ears are unique, and some individuals may be more prone to certain ear conditions than others. If you experience persistent or severe ear pain, changes in hearing, or other concerning symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Are there home remedies that can help alleviate ear pain?

While it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment, there are some home remedies that may offer temporary relief from mild ear pain. Keep in mind that these remedies are not a substitute for medical advice and should only be used when appropriate.

  • Warm Compress: Applying a warm, moist compress to the affected ear can help relieve pain and discomfort. Make sure the compress is not too hot to avoid burns.
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: Non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation. Follow the recommended dosage instructions.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide Drops: If ear pain is caused by excess earwax buildup, a few drops of hydrogen peroxide mixed with warm water may help soften the wax, making it easier to remove. However, avoid this if you suspect an ear infection.
  • Chewing or Yawning: If ear pain is caused by changes in air pressure, such as during flights or high altitudes, chewing gum, yawning, or swallowing can help equalize pressure and alleviate discomfort.
  • Rest and Elevation: If the ear pain is related to an infection, getting plenty of rest and keeping your head elevated while sleeping may help reduce pressure and discomfort.
  • Avoid Inserting Objects: Never insert cotton swabs, fingers, or any objects into the ear canal, as this can push wax further in or even damage the delicate structures of the ear.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help maintain proper fluid balance and possibly prevent ear infections that may lead to pain.

Remember, if ear pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms like fever, drainage from the ear, or changes in hearing, it’s important to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional can accurately diagnose the underlying cause of the pain and recommend appropriate treatment.

When should I see a doctor for my ear pain?

Although we’ve listed some of the most common causes of earaches and ear infections, there are countless other reasons you may be experiencing ear pain. The best way to diagnose and treat severe ear pain in Indianapolis, IN is to seek medical attention. If you’re looking for same or next day care to treat your ear pain, consider requesting an appointment at:

Supro Direct
701 E County Line Road
Suite 210 Greenwood, IN 46143
317-300-7424

Our physicians have years of experience treating patients in Indianapolis, Greenwood, Shelbyville, Plainfield, and beyond. We look forward to serving you and getting to the bottom of your ear condition, hearing loss, or other health concerns.

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