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Causes of Ear Pain

Earaches could be caused by ear infections, sinusitis, ear barotrauma, temporomandibular joint syndrome, etc. Provided here is some information on the common causes of ear pain.
Debopriya Bose Apr 10, 2019
Medically referred to as otalgia, ear pain is mostly caused by an infection of the outer, middle, or inner ear. At times, the pain could be referred. For instance, the pain might be experienced in or around the ear, though the site of the painful stimulus may actually be an infected tooth, infected adenoid, inflamed sinuses, or the temporomandibular joint.
It has been observed that ear infections are more common in children than adults. It is advisable to consult a doctor for the timely identification and treatment for the underlying cause of pain.

Contributing Factors

Earache could be a sign of otitis externa (inflammation of the outer ear), otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear), and otitis interna (inflammation of the inner ear).

Otitis Media

Middle ear infections are quite common in children. It is usually caused by the inflammation of mucous membranes in the nasopharynx due to allergies or upper respiratory infections that are caused by bacteria or viruses. The accumulation of pus and mucus behind the eardrum obstructs the Eustachian tube.
The Eustachian tube performs the vital function of equalizing air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. It also drains secretions or debris from the middle ear space. If this tube gets blocked, the negative middle ear pressure causes fluid to get sucked into the middle ear cavity. This is referred to as otitis media with effusion (OME).
Though thick or sticky fluid has accumulated behind the eardrum in the middle ear, there's no infection. However, in cases where the Eustachian tube is partially blocked, bacteria present inside the ear get trapped and start multiplying. This may lead to an ear infection. This condition is referred to as acute otitis media.

Otitis Externa

In case of otitis externa, fluid gets trapped in the ear canal. It is also referred to as swimmer's ear. Swimming in water that is infested with bacteria or pseudomonas. It gives rise to symptoms such as earache, drainage from the ear, itching in the ear or ear canal, hearing problems, etc.

Malignant Otitis Externa

Malignant otitis externa is a serious ear problem wherein the infection in the ear canal spreads to the skull, and damages the bones of the ear canal and the bones located the base of the skull.


Dysfunction of the Eustachian tube results in a negative ear pressure in the middle ear, which in turn can cause a part of the eardrum to be pulled into the middle ear, thereby leading to the formation of a cyst or a pocket.
Also known as cholesteatoma, such a cyst can get infected and erode the bone of the ear. If left untreated, the cyst can lead to persistent ear drainage, labyrinthitis, vertigo, hearing loss, facial paralysis, meningitis, etc.


As mentioned earlier, the Eustachian tube equalizes the pressure on both sides of the eardrum. As a result of the blockage of the Eustachian tube, there may be difference in air pressure across the eardrum. This can cause barotrauma, which is characterized by discomfort, pain, feeling of fullness in the ears, etc.
Ear pain could also be caused due to injury, trauma, foreign object being lodged in the ear, etc.

Indirect Causes of Ear Pain

Earache can also be caused due to:
➞ Dental problems
➞ Infection of the throat or sinuses
➞ Disorders of the nerves of the regions around the ears
➞ Injury to a facial nerve
➞ TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder
➞ Tonsillitis
It is advisable to seek medical help, if earache is accompanied by a feeling of fullness in the ear, hearing problems, tinnitus, malaise, etc. Drug therapy and self-care measures can surely help in alleviating the symptoms.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.