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Ear and Neck Pain

Ear and Neck Pain

Sometimes ear pain could be coupled with pain in the neck. This could be caused by common cold or could result from an infection that is caused due to an injury or the presence of a foreign body in the ear. In some cases, however, there could be serious underlying causes too.
Medha Godbole
Did You Know?
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD), which are one of the most common contributory factors for jaw pain, may increase a person's susceptibility to ear and neck pain.
  • Approximately 25 to 40 million people in USA suffer from Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD). And about 50% of people with TMJ disorder are more susceptible to ear pain.
  • Women are more prone to TMJ disorders than men.

Neck pain or a stiff neck usually gets better after a couple of days and is more common in adults, whereas ear pain is commonly seen in children than grown-ups. Sometimes, the problem could be a result of chronic underlying medical conditions, which may require aggressive or long-term treatment methods.
Can Ear Pain Cause Neck Pain or Vice Versa?
Yes, ear and neck, both are inter-related anatomically. The arteries and veins that supply and carry blood from the ear, pass through the neck. Some branches of vestibulocochlear nerve are present in the ears as well as the neck which is why pain may be felt in the ears and in the muscles of the neck at the same time. Apart from this, sternocleidomastoid (principle neck muscle), is in proximity to the ear bones and thus when a pain arises in the ear, it may be felt in the neck and vice versa, in most cases.
Mild Causes
  • Buildup of fluid in the Eustachian tubes leading to an ear infection (This is more common in children.)
  • Bacterial ear infections
  • Respiratory infection caused during common cold
  • Pain in the jaw or tooth
  • Rupture of the eardrum
  • Incorrect sleeping posture or acute strain on the neck muscles
Severe Causes
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders: The Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located on either side of your head and your jaw, helping you to talk and chew. TMJ disorders give rise to weakness in this joint; thus difficulty and pain is experienced during its movement. It is often observed in women, especially those between 30 and 50 years of age.

What Causes it?
  • Jaw injury
  • Weariness of muscles of the area around the joint
  • Erosion or dislocation of the disc
  • Arthritis
Symptoms
  • Soreness of jaw
  • Acute pain in the facial area near the joint
  • Trouble while chewing or yawning
  • Headache
Tonsillitis: It is the redness or inflammation of the tonsils, caused commonly due to a viral or bacterial infection. Children between 3 to 16 years, who are often exposed to germs, frequently suffer from tonsillitis.

What Causes it?
  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection, usually caused due to a bacterium called Streptococcus pyogenes
Symptoms
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Red colored tonsils sometimes showing white patches
  • Pain experienced during swallowing of food
  • Headache
Ramsay Hunt Syndrome: Ramsay Hunt Syndrome (RHS) syndrome affects the facial nerve leading to paralysis of the face and damage to the affected ear. This syndrome is often misdiagnosed as Bell's palsy, another form of facial paralysis. Studies show that 1 in 20 people diagnosed with RHS suffer from a possible permanent hearing loss.

What Causes It?
  • The virus called Varicella zoster virus. The same virus also causes chickenpox and shingles.
Symptoms
  • Red rash around one ear
  • Paralysis on the same side as of the affected ear
  • Problem in hearing along with pain in the affected ear
  • Dizziness
Note: In children, ear pain is commonly caused by an infection of the middle ear. It is termed as acute otitis media. The same infection may also cause severe pain in the neck area as well. In rare but extreme cases, otitis media may also affect the skull.
Treatment
The treatment will solely depend on the causes aforementioned. For instance, if TMJ disorder is diagnosed as the cause, treating it will help manage the problem. Not every time TMJ disorder needs medication, but if the symptoms are persistent, you may be advised to use a 'bite guard' that prevents you from grinding your teeth at night. Also, your doctor may ask you to undergo certain therapies comprising stress-relieving techniques since the pain can result from anxiety or stress. So a psychotherapist may help you learn ways to handle stress effectively. Surgery or replacement of the joint is reserved for patients who may not respond to conventional medicines.
Apart from what your doctor recommends, you can also follow certain self-care measures.
  • Avoid clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. Keeping a check on such habits will help reduce the pain.
  • Excessive use of jaw muscles will lead to stress. To avoid this, have foods that are easily chewable and in smaller portions.
  • Apply ice pack or a warm water bag to the affected place to reduce the pain.
  • Rest your neck frequently for short period of time during the day.
  • In some cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication may help in relieving the pain.
  • Keep a check on your sitting posture.
  • Exercises such as walking or swimming help stimulate blood circulation to the ear and neck area, and this helps alleviate the pain to some extent.
  • If any foreign body is stuck in the ear for more than a day, it is imperative that you visit an ear specialist.
The condition of ear and neck pain does not raise health concerns in most cases. However, if the pain worsens, or is accompanied by other abnormal symptoms in the body, then this warrants a visit to an otolaryngologist who would rule out potential problems, and begin the appropriate treatment plan.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.