Common Causes of Ear Pain: A Self-Help Guide
Determine what might be causing your ear pain.
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.
The 5 Common Causes of Ear Pain
To properly treat an earache, you must determine what’s causing the pain. Below are the five most common causes of ear pain and remedies for each cause.
Congestion Caused by Allergies
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 ear 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although these are 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:
701 E County Line Road
Suite 210 Greenwood, IN 46143
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.