Earaches and headaches are some of the most common medical complaints, and almost everyone is bound to experience them at some point. While most ear and head pain is not cause for concern, a doctor should evaluate severe pain that lasts longer than a few days or is accompanied by other symptoms. Sometimes aching ears and headaches are a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires further treatment.
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Earaches are often a result of fluid buildup and pressure in the middle ear behind the eardrum, explains FamilyDoctor.org. The Eustachian tube that connects the nose and middle ear can become infected with bacteria or viruses that prevent the fluid from draining normally. Enlarged adenoids and allergies can also interfere with drainage. Ear infections can occur at any age, but they are more common in children.
Headaches may occur in conjunction with ear pain or on their own. Nearly anything can be responsible for a headache. Stress, muscle tension, changes in diet or sleep patterns, infections, medications, certain scents, air pollution and vision problems are some common causes. Infections, particularly in the sinuses, and other medical conditions, such as hypoglycemia and meningitis, can also trigger headaches.
Over-the-counter pain relievers including as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help relieve mild to moderate pain in the ears and head. Children under the age of 18 should never take aspirin due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal medical condition.
A warm, moist compress held to the ear can help relieve pain as well. Ear pain from fluid buildup often intensifies when lying down, so resting in an upright position may help. Chewing gum can also help relieve pressure in the middle ear. Headaches often respond well to cool compresses or ice packs applied to the forehead, particularly migraine headaches. Intense light may aggravate headaches, so rest in a dark room is preferable.
Ear infections caused by bacteria often respond well to antibiotics. Oral antibiotics or prescription eardrops can help clear some infections. Children with recurring fluid problems in their ears may require a medical procedure where a doctor places ear tubes to drain the fluid and decrease the number of ear infections a child gets, according to FamilyDoctor.org.
Recurring headaches, such as migraines and cluster headaches, often respond well to preventative medications, such as zolmitriptan and sumatriptan. Potent doses of sumatriptan in injectable form can provide quick relief during a cluster headache attack.
Avoiding smoking and keeping allergies under control help prevent many earaches. Children who take a bottle to bed or use a pacifier have a higher risk of ear infections, cautions FamilyDoctor.org. Children who have recurring ear infections may need a low dose antibiotic on a daily basis, particularly during the winter months when infections are more common.
Avoiding things that trigger headaches can prevent them in many people. Some have sensitivity to certain medications, foods and environmental triggers, such as smoke or perfume. Eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly can improve your overall health and decrease the risk of frequent headaches. Those who regularly get sinus headaches may benefit from allergy medications.
It's important for a doctor to evaluate children with recurring ear infections due to the potential of temporary or permanent hearing loss. Hearing problems are possible in adults with severe or frequent ear infections as well.
Severe pain that suddenly stops can be a sign of a ruptured eardrum that requires emergency medical care. Eardrops and liquid can cause serious damage in patients with ruptured eardrums. Earaches accompanied by a high fever, dizziness, severe headache or weakness of facial muscles can be serious and should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Severe headaches that come on suddenly or are combined with a fever, rash, stiff neck, confusion, seizure, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking may be due to a stroke or meningitis. Headaches that occur after an injury to the head or neck can be caused by a concussion or spinal injury and require emergency care.