Ear pain may be caused by a variety of noninfectious conditions. Trauma, tumors and jaw disorders may provoke ear pain. A through physical examination of the ear along with a careful history of the onset and nature of the ear pain are important for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
The Mayo Clinic advises that a ruptured eardrum may cause sudden, intense ear pain. Possible noninfectious causes of eardrum rupture include exposure to blasting noise, a blow to the ear, a skull fracture, or accidentally inserting an object through the eardrum. The pain of eardrum rupture typically subsides rapidly. The American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery notes that most eardrum ruptures heal spontaneously.
Cerumen is earwax. Earwax normally moves out of the ear. However, it may accumulate in the ear canal causing complete or partial blockage, a condition termed cerumen impaction. In a 2008 article published in "Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery," Dr. Peter Roland and colleagues reported approximately 5 percent of adults and 10 percent of children have excessive or impacted cerumen. This condition commonly causes ear pain, decreased hearing acuity, itching and dizziness. Removal of the impacted cerumen relieves all associated symptoms.
Foreign Body in the Ear Canal
The presence of a foreign body in the ear canal often causes ear pain. The University of Virginia Health System notes that children ages 2 to 4 most commonly present with foreign bodies in the ear. The child may not tell the parent he stuck something in his ear, but will usually complain of ear pain. In young children, removal of the foreign body may require brief, general anesthesia.
The University of Virginia Health System explains that a dermoid cyst is a congenital skin defect, which grows into a cyst over time. Uncommonly, dermoid cysts occur in the ear canal or middle ear. As the cyst grows within the confined space of the ear, it may cause ear pain. Surgical removal is the definitive treatment for this condition.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
The temporomandibular joint is the connection between the lower jaw, the mandible, and the skull. This complex joint is responsible for generating the high-level pressure required for chewing. Functional and structural abnormalities are common in the temporomandibular joint; the term temporomandibular joint disorders, or TMJ, describes these abnormalities. The TMJ Association reports that one of the many symptoms that may occur with TMJ is ear pain. Addressing the problem in the joint typically relieves the associated ear pain.
Is This an Emergency?
- Mayo Clinic: Ruptured Eardrum, Symptoms
- American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery: Perforated Eardrum
- "Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery"; Clinical Practice Guideline: Cerumen Impaction; Dr. Peter S. Roland et al; 2008
- American Family Physician: Cerumen Impaction
- University of Virginia Health System: Foreign Bodies in the Ear, Nose and Airway