Learn About Ailments | Ear Ache

Ear Ache

Ear ache (also known as otalgia and otodynia) is a pain which can be localised around the middle or inner ear. Pain can be caused by disease in the external, middle or inner ear. Pain can occur due to foreign bodies e.g. cotton bud trauma, insects etc. or infection/inflammation from bacteria.
Ear Ache

In This Article
Causes of ear ache Symptoms of ear ache
Diagnosis of ear ache Related terms

Ear ache or ear pain is known medically as otalgia. Ear pain is typically because of an infection of the outer ear (called otitis externa) or the middle ear (otitis media). However, ear ache can also be caused by areas of the body which affect the nerves of the ear (a process known as 'referred pain'). Dental problems, disorders of the jaw, spinal disease or injury, throat infections or conditions of the upper digestive tract can all cause ear ache.

Other causes of ear ache include:
  • Foreign objects in the ear
  • Build up of ear wax
  • Blows to the ear (trauma, injury)
  • Sudden loud noises (explosions etc.)
  • Diving (sudden pressure changes known as 'barotrauma'  )
  • Air travel (altitude changes)
  • Glue ear
  • Common cold
  • Mumps
  • Sinusitis
  • Eczema
  • Tonsillitis

Earache is not a condition in itself but a symptom of an underlying problem. Depending on the condition, ear ache can be experienced in a number of ways. Common problems and associated symptoms include:
  • Dull, persistent and aching pain
  • Burning sensation in the ear
  • Pain when chewing
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Short-term hearing loss
  • Sleeping difficulty
  • Irritability
  • Problems with balance
  • Dizziness
  • High temperature

Most cases of ear ache clear up on their own after a few days but if your symptoms persist or are severe then you should visit your GP.

The GP will ask about any recent bouts of cold, flu or respiratory problems. They may also ask about any sudden blows to the head you may have experienced or prolonged/sudden exposure to loud noises.

The doctor will also perform a physical examination of the ear by removing any excess ear wax and then inserting a small flashlight instrument known as an 'otoscope'. This gives the GP a view directly into the ear which will reveal signs of infection, eardrum damage or foreign objects which may have become stuck.

The GP may also use a test called 'tympanometry'. A small probe is placed into the entrance of the ear to form an airtight seal. Air pressure in the ear is then varied while a fixed tone sound is directed at the eardrum. The test can detect fluid in the middle air or obstructions in the Eustachian tube (the tube that runs from the middle ear to the pharynx). A similar test called reflectometry detects fluid and obstructions using reflected sound.

If hearing problems or a more serious condition are suspected then the GP may refer you to a specialist.

Ear pain
Ear conditions
Ear infections

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