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Causes of Adult Ear Pain

author image Martin Hughes
Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician, health writer and the co-owner of a website devoted to natural footgear. He writes about health, fitness, diet and lifestyle. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.
Causes of Adult Ear Pain
There are numerous causes of adult ear pain. Photo Credit ear image by Connfetti from <a href="http://www.fotolia.com">Fotolia.com</a>

There are numerous causes of adult ear pain. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health or NIH, ear pain can be sharp, dull or burning. The NIH says ear pain can manifest in one or both ears, and that ear-related pain may be constant or temporary. Ear pain in adults may be caused by an infection, although ear pain can also be referred from another part of the body such as the temporomandibular joint or TMJ, the teeth or throat.


According to the Merck Manuals website, mastoiditis is a bacterial infection of the mastoid process or the bony prominence behind the ear. Mastoiditis manifests when untreated acute otitis media spreads from the middle ear to the mastoid air cells--air-filled spaces--in the mastoid process. The mastoid air cells become filled with fluid, and as the condition progresses, the air cells enlarge and inflammation causes damage to the bony structures of the mastoid process. Possible complications associated with untreated mastoiditis include the following: deafness, blood poisoning or sepsis, meningitis or infection of the tissues surrounding the brain and other parts of the central nervous system, brain abscess or death. Different types of bacteria can cause mastoiditis, including Streptococcus pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Haemophilus influenzae.

Otitis Media

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders or NIDCD--a division of the National Institutes of Health--says otitis media or ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear that may be caused by certain types of bacteria. Otitis media is characterized by a buildup of fluid behind the tympanic membrane or eardrum. The NIDCD says that, although children are most commonly affected by otitis media, anybody can get an ear infection. There are three principal types of otitis media: acute otitis media, otitis media with effusion and chronic otitis media with effusion. The most common type of otitis media is acute otitis media, which usually causes the following signs and symptoms: a middle ear that's swollen and infected, fluid behind the eardrum, ear pain and fever.

Tympanic Membrane Perforation

According to the National Institutes of Health or NIH, a tympanic membrane perforation, also known as a ruptured eardrum, is an opening in the tympanic membrane. The tympanic membrane is a divider between the middle ear and outer ear that vibrates every time it's struck by sound waves. The NIH says tympanic membrane perforation or damage may be caused by acoustic trauma or a loud noise, pressure changes between the inside and outside of the eardrum, scuba diving, foreign objects in the ear, ear trauma caused by a nearby explosion or cleaning the ear with a cotton-tipped swab. Common signs and symptoms associated with a tympanic membrane perforation include the following: severe ear pain, ear drainage, ear buzzing, facial weakness, dizziness and total or partial hearing loss in the involved ear.

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