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Outer Ear Pain

Chandramita Bora May 10, 2019
One can experience pain in the outer ear due to various reasons, including an injury or trauma to the ear, and a blockage in the ear canal. Let's find out more about the factors that can cause this condition, along with its treatment.
Pain in the outer ear can be caused by several factors, ranging from a minor injury or trauma to the external ear, to ear infections. The pain caused by these conditions can be mild or severe. Sometimes, the pain can worsen, if you touch the pinna or pull the ear. The following are some of the possible conditions that can cause outer ear pain.

What Can Cause Pain in the Outer Ear?

Basically, this type of pain can be caused by three conditions, trauma to the ear, otitis externa or an infection of the outer ear, and a blocked ear canal.

Trauma to the Ear

An injury or trauma to the external ear, such as a cut or bruise, or a fracture can cause pain in the outer ear. The habit of inserting hairpins and other objects, like cotton swabs for the removal of earwax or scratching the ear, can also cause skin abrasions.
This can cause the formation of abscess, and then an infection. Even a mandibular fracture or a fracture of the lower jaw can cause significant pain in the outer ear.

Otitis Externa

Otitis externa refers to the infection of the external or outer ear, and is also known by the name of swimmer's ear. The infection is usually caused by bacteria and fungus.
The main predisposing factor for an external ear infection is the presence of excess moisture in the ear. Usually, earwax or cerumen protects the ear from excess moisture by creating a thin water-repelling film on the skin of the ear canal.
Cerumen is acidic, and so, it inhibits the growth of bacteria in the ear, besides trapping dirt, debris, and dead skin cells, and removing these from the ear. The presence of excess moisture in the ear can disrupt these functions, and increase the risk of an infection.
The ear can get exposed to excessive moisture when we swim for a long time, especially in polluted or contaminated water. This is the reason why people can get ear pain after swimming for a prolonged time period. It is also a common cause of ear pain in children, as their ear canals are small, and so, they trap water or moisture easily.
Adults who do not swim can also get otitis externa, if they scratch the ear vigorously with cotton swabs and sharp objects, like hair pins or clips.

A Blocked Ear Canal

A blocked ear canal can also produce pain in the external ear. A blockage in the ear canal is usually caused by the buildup of cerumen. However, the ear canal of children can get blocked due to the insertion of foreign objects in the outer ear canal as well.
For earwax removal, the ear can be flushed with water. For removing foreign objects from the ear, it is advisable to seek the help of a physician.

Pain Management

The treatment depends on the underlying causes, which can be determined by evaluating the symptoms. Sometimes, the pain can be accompanied by symptoms, like itching, redness, swelling or inflammation, and the discharge of white or yellow pus from the ear. If ear discharge is present, then it can be a sign of infection.
Impacted earwax can cause itching and partial hearing loss, along with pain. Along with evaluating such symptoms, physicians examine the ear canal with a lighted instrument, known as otoscope, to find out the exact cause of ear pain. If any discharge, pus, or earwax is present in the outer ear, they first clean the ear with a suction device or curette.
If an outer ear infection is responsible for causing the pain, then medications like antibiotic ear drops can be prescribed by the physicians. But if it is a fungal infection, then antifungal medications can be required for treating this condition. If inflammation is present, then physicians may prescribe steroids after evaluating the condition.
If the pain is found to be caused by the buildup of earwax, then mineral oil can be used for loosening the hardened earwax. However, mineral oil should never be used if one has perforated eardrums.
The application of heat is another effective remedy for this condition. You can use a heating pad to apply heat to your ear and get relief from the pain. However, pain killers can be required, if the pain is quite severe and intense.
If you experience severe or sharp pain in the outer ear, then consider to seek medical help as soon as possible. In general, ear pain can be prevented with the help of a few precautionary measures, such as drying the ear after swimming or taking a bath, and avoiding swimming in unclean water.
One should also avoid inserting any sharp objects, like hair pins, clips, or cotton swabs in the ear in an attempt to remove hardened earwax.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.