Otalgia is the medical terminology for ear pain. Ear pain can arise due to various causes. It is commonly due to local causes that arise from the ear or referred pain to the ear due to problems in nearby areas.
Diseases of the outer ear like a boil, an accumulation of wax, any foreign object stuck in the ear, otitis externa, trauma to the ear canal resulting from ear buds or matchsticks and cancer of the ear can cause ear pain.
Infections of the middle ear are a common cause of earache. Most children with ear pain usually have a middle ear infection. This results in fluid and pressure buildup in the middle ear and throbbing ear pain that generally worsens at night.
Pressure changes or altitude changes while flying can also result in ear pain.
Menieres disease, which is a disorder of the inner ear due to fluid imbalance, can present with ear pain, ear fullness, dizziness and sounds in the ears.
Referred Ear Pain
The ear has a rich nerve supply from multiple nerves. The nerves that supply the ear also supply the teeth, tonsils, jaw and neck. Hence problems in these head and neck areas can cause ear pain without any problems in the ear.
Dental disorders are the most common cause of referred pain to the ear. Recent dental work, infection in the tooth, an impacted tooth, an abscess and ill-fitting dentures can all cause ear pain.
The temporomandibular joint is near the ear, and degenerative disease and arthritis of the jaw can lead to earache.
Diseases of the neck like degenerative disease of the cervical spine can result in earache.
Tonsillitis, ulcers in the tongue and sore throat are other causes of earache.
Sometimes a ear pain is a symptom of underlying sinister causes like a cancer of the tongue, cancer of the tonsil or voice box.
Based on the history of the pain and examination of the ear, a doctor can establish the cause of the pain.
Smokers and alcoholics who have complaints of unexplained prolonged ear pain when the ear appears normal should undergo further investigations. Cancer of the throat and tongue should be ruled out as it may cause referred pain to the ear.
With complaints of earache, you should get prompt medical advice and treatment of the underlying cause.