Earache, otalgia: What's it, causes, symptoms, diagnostics, treatment, prevention

Earache; Otalgia; Pain – ear; Ear pain

Earache: What's it?

Earache, also known as otalgia, is a common symptom, occurring in acute, throbbing or burning pain in the ear. Most people, who experience ear pain, experience discomfort in the outer or middle ear. Usually, pain occurs, when the eardrum and auditory structures in the ear become inflamed, irritated or infected with a cold, allergies or other illness, such as a bacterial or viral infection.

Earache: causes

The most common causes of ear pain are:

  • Colds or allergies. When a person has a cold or allergies, fluid and mucus may accumulate in the middle ear, causing pain.
  • Bacterial or viral infection. Ear Infections (including otitis media and otitis externa) are the most common types of infections, causing ear pain.
  • Damage to the eardrum. A hole in the eardrum can cause pain and lead to infection.
  • Foreign objects in the ear. An object or insect in the ear can cause ear pain, as well as hearing loss.
  • Ear floats (otitis externa) is a bacterial infection of the outer ear and canal.
  • Effusion in the middle ear (fluid in the ear) may be caused by allergies, a cold or blockage of the Eustachian tubes and lead to earache.
  • Barotrauma - this is caused by a sudden change in atmospheric pressure, eg, when flying by plane, what causes earache.
  • Exostosis is a buildup of bone in the external auditory canal due to repeated exposure to cold water., what causes earache.
  • Toothache. Pain from a tooth abscess can cause ear pain, since the inner ear and jaw are close to each other.
  • Head or neck injury. Head injury can cause pain, dizziness and ear pain, as the nerves from the ear and neck connect.

Earache: symptoms

The most common symptom of ear pain is pain. Pain can be in one or both ears and can range from mild to severe. Other common symptoms include:

  • Feeling of stuffiness in the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • muffled hearing
  • Tinnitus (tinnitus)
  • Itching in the ear
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Discharge from the ear (including pus)
  • Swollen earlobe
  • Sleeping problems

When to See a Doctor for Ear Pain

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should contact your doctor or healthcare professional. If ear pain is accompanied by fever, swelling of the earlobe or purulent discharge, should seek medical advice immediately. It is also important to seek medical attention, if you have pain, that doesn't go away after a few days, or if you have hearing loss or dizziness.

Questions, that your doctor may ask

When you visit your doctor for ear pain, it, probably, ask you some questions, to help diagnose the cause.

  • When the pain came?
  • Where the pain is felt?
  • What does pain look like?
  • Have you had any recent colds or allergies?
  • Have you recently been exposed to water (swimming, bathing, etc.. d.)?
  • Have you had a recent head injury?
  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as dizziness, discharge or fever?

Earache: diagnostics

To diagnose ear pain, the doctor will conduct a medical examination of the ear. This may include examining the eardrum, which is inside the ear canal, using an otoscope. In some cases, your doctor may also use an audiogram to check for hearing loss.. X-rays can be used to check for a middle ear infection, and blood or other tests may be used to check for infections or allergies.

Earache: treatment

Ear pain treatment depends on the underlying cause.

  • Bacterial or viral infections. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infections and reduce inflammation.
  • For allergies or a cold, antihistamines and decongestants may be prescribed., to reduce inflammation and other symptoms.
  • Injury to the tympanic membrane – may require repair of the tympanic membrane.
  • Foreign objects in the ear. If any object is stuck in the ear, the doctor may need to remove it.
  • Ear floats: antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection.
  • Effusion in the middle ear: They can be assigned to medication, which will help reduce fluid accumulation and lower blood pressure.
  • Barotravma: pain medication may be prescribed to relieve symptoms.
  • Exostosis – surgery may be required to remove the bone growth.
  • Toothache. They can be treated with antibiotics, to reduce inflammation and relieve ear pain.
  • Head or neck injury. If ear pain is caused by an injury, your doctor may refer you to a specialist for further treatment.

Home treatment for ear pain

Despite, what you should always discuss with your doctor about ear pain treatment, there are several home remedies, which you can try.

  • Applying a warm compress or moist heat to your ear can help reduce inflammation and pain..
  • Gently massage the ear and the area around it to help relieve ear pain.
  • Avoid getting water or other liquids in your ear to help prevent further irritation and infection.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers, Taki how ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen.
  • Avoid Loud Sounds – Loud noise can make ear pain worse.
  • Stay hydrated: drinking plenty of water helps lubricate the ears, which relieves ear pain.
  • Avoid flights and other activities, which cause sudden changes in atmospheric pressure - this can increase ear pain.

Earache: prevention

You Can Help Prevent Ear Pain, by doing the following:

  • Practice ear hygiene, including keep an eye on, keep ears clean and dry, and also avoid getting foreign objects in the ears.
  • Avoid Loud Sounds – Loud noise can cause ear pain.
  • Use hearing protection – ear plugs or earmuffs will help protect your ears from loud noises.
  • Avoid contact with water: use ear plugs or a swim cap when swimming, to prevent infection.
  • Using the air filter. Air filters can help reduce airborne irritants, what will help prevent earache.
  • Allergy treatment. If you are allergic, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce symptoms.
  • Stress Management. Stress can make ear pain worse, so it's important to find ways to deal with stress effectively.

Used sources and literature

Earwood JS, Rogers TS, Rathjen NA. Ear pain: diagnosing common and uncommon causes. Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(1):20-27. PMID: 29365233 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29365233/.

Haddad J, Dodhia SN. General considerations in evaluation of the ear. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Bloom NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 654.

Pelton SI. Otitis externa, otitis media, and mastoiditis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 61.

Player B. Earache. In: Kliegman RM, Toth H, BJ borders, Basel D, eds. Nelson Pediatric Symptom-Based Diagnosis. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 5.

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