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Causes of Ear Pain Without Infection

author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
Causes of Ear Pain Without Infection
Conditions of the ear canal and nearby structures may cause ear pain.

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.

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Eardrum Rupture

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 Impaction

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.

Dermoid Cyst

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.

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