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It can be quite normal to experience a burning sensation in the ears occasionally, especially when we get embarrassed or consume very hot and spicy food. In such cases, a burning sensation can be felt due to a sudden rush of blood to the ears. This condition usually resolves within a few minutes.
However, sometimes a burning or tingling sensation in the ear could be a sign of certain health problems, especially if it is experienced frequently without any apparent reason. Many people experience such abnormal skin sensations. The medical term for this condition is paresthesia, and it could be associated with an infection, inflammation, or a trauma that can cause nerve damage. Let's find out more about the conditions that can produce an unusual sensation in the ears.
What Causes Burning Sensation in the Ears
Trauma to the Ear
An injury to the ear can damage the sensory nerves, which can produce a burning pain or sensation in the ear. Any type of injury to the ears, including a direct blow to the ear, as well as an injury received during an accident can cause this condition.
It is the medical term for an infection of the middle ear. Otitis media is the most common type of ear infection, that is usually associated with a buildup of fluid in the middle ear. The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the throat, and is responsible for draining fluid from the middle ear. So, when this tube gets blocked, fluid accumulates in the middle ear, which produces a favorable condition for the growth of infectious agents. An infection of the middle ear can produce symptoms like ear pain, a sensation of fullness in the ear, swelling, and a burning pain. Otitis media more commonly results from a cold or upper respiratory infection.
Like otitis media, otitis externa or infection of the external ear can also produce a burning or tingling sensation in the affected ear. This condition is more commonly known as swimmer's ear. It is usually caused when water gets into the outer ear canal and remains there, which usually happens after swimming. The presence of water in the outer ear canal creates a warm and moist environment, which is favorable for the growth of infectious agents like bacteria.
Sometimes, otitis externa can also be caused by other conditions, such as the presence of a foreign object in the ear, and allergies to jewelry. An injury caused by scratching or cleaning the ear aggressively with objects like hairpins and cotton swabs, can also increase the risk of otitis externa. The most common symptoms of this condition are, itching, redness, a sensation of burning or throbbing pain, swelling, a feeling of fullness inside the ear, and clear and odorless discharge.
Like upper respiratory infections, sinusitis or sinus infections can also produce a burning pain in the ear. Sinus infections are usually caused by common cold, allergic rhinitis, a deviated septum, or the presence of polyps in the nasal cavity.
All these conditions can cause the sinuses to get blocked, which in turn can prevent the drainage of fluid. As a result, fluid accumulates inside the sinus, and creates a favorable condition for microbial growth. Facial pain or pressure, nasal stuffiness, congestion, headache, cough, bad breathe, and loss of taste and smell are some common symptoms associated with sinusitis.
Diabetes and Peripheral Neuropathy
Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes can damage the peripheral nerves, and produce unusual skin sensations like tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation in the extremities of the body, such the hands, feet, toes, and sometimes, the external ear.
Peripheral neuropathy refers to the damage of the peripheral nerves. Sometimes, it can be caused by a consistently high level of blood sugar or diabetes. In fact, peripheral neuropathy is one of the most common form of diabetic neuropathy. Other than diabetes, factors like infections, exposure to toxins, traumatic injuries, and certain metabolic problems can also cause peripheral neuropathy.
Trauma to the Cranial Nerves
Cranial nerves are the nerves that originate from the base of the brain. In humans, there are 12 pairs of cranial nerves, and any kind of traumatic injury to these may produce burning sensations in various parts of the body.
A burning sensation in the ear may be associated with a condition like stroke, especially if it is accompanied by facial numbness, dizziness, headache, blurred vision, slurred speech, confusion, and paralysis or numbness on one side of the body. A stroke is caused when the supply of blood to the brain gets impaired.
Allergies to metals (in jewelry), hair spray, dye, cosmetics, and even certain food can produce a burning sensation in your ears. An allergic reaction (especially to a particular food and medicine) can sometimes lead to a potentially life-threatening condition, called anaphylaxis. This condition is a medical emergency that calls for immediate medical intervention. The signs and symptoms of this condition include itching, hives, swelling of the tongue, hoarseness, dizziness, anxiety, confusion, irregular heart rate, and low blood pressure.
Other Possible Causes
Apart from the aforementioned causes, a few other conditions may be associated with pain or a burning sensation in the ear, which include:
✧ Extreme cold
✧ Chemical burn
✧ Nerve compression
✧ Buildup of earwax
✧ Multiple sclerosis
Diagnosis and Treatment
As a burning or tingling sensation in the ears could be associated with so many health conditions, it can be treated only after ascertaining the exact cause. If it is caused by an infection, then antibiotics can be required. But, if it is a symptom of peripheral neuropathy, then the treatment options will be completely different. Therefore, accurate diagnosis plays an important role in the treatment of this condition.
To diagnosis this condition, physicians can evaluate the medical history of the affected individual, along with conducting physical examinations, CT scan of the ear and the brain, and neurological examinations. Specific tests for examining the movement, balance, coordination, vision, and hearing of the individual can also be carried out. All these tests and examinations would help narrow down the actual causes, and rule out other ear problems.
As frequent sensations of numbness and burning in the ears can be associated with certain major health problems, it is better to get this condition properly evaluated with the help of a physician or health care provider. Once the condition is diagnosed, it can be resolved by treating the underlying cause.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.