Numerous conditions and problems can cause outer ear pain. According to the University of Illinois Medical Center, ear pain can range from mild to severe, and is usually caused by conditions of the outer or middle ear. The outer ear is the external portion of the ear, consisting of the pinna, concha and auditory meatus--structures that collect sound energy and relay it to the eardrum.
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According to the KidsHealth website, otitis externa, also known as swimmer's ear, is an infection of the ear canal--the tubular opening that channels sounds from outside the body to the middle ear. Otitis externa can be caused by numerous types of bacteria or fungi, and is most common in children who spend a significant amount of time in the water, although non-swimmers can also contract this infection. Excessive moisture in the outer ear can inflame and break down the skin in the ear canal, providing an entry point for bacteria or fungi. Common signs and symptoms associated with otitis externa include severe ear pain that's made worse when the outer portion of the ear is pulled or pressed, ear pain when chewing food, itching and swelling of the ear canal, and an outer ear that's red and swollen.
The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library states that trauma to the external ear can cause bruising, cuts or fractures. Blunt-force trauma to the pinna--the visible part of the ear--can cause blood to gather in the affected area, rendering the pinna a shapeless, purple-colored mass. The bruising increases the likelihood of outer ear infection, abscess formation and death of the cartilage due to insufficient blood flow. Lacerations, or cuts, of the pinna, along with avulsions, or a tearing away of the pinna from its point of attachment, can cause outer ear pain too. Blunt-force trauma causing mandibular fractures or fractures of the lower jaw can cause pain to radiate to the outer ear. If a portion of the ear canal's anterior or front wall becomes displaced during a jaw fracture, surgery may be required to reduce or remove the offending fragments.
Ear Canal Blockage
According to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, the most common cause of a blocked ear canal is earwax, also known as cerumen. Although earwax may not cause any problems, in some cases, a buildup of cerumen can cause itching, discomfort and hearing loss in the affected ear. Most earwax can be removed via ear irrigation, which involves gently flushing the ear canal with warm water. Another common type of ear canal blockage, especially among children, involves foreign objects in the outer ear canal. Common objects that a child may insert in her ear include beads, erasers and beans. Instead of flushing the ear with water to remove the objects and reduce ear discomfort, a physician may use a blunt hook or a small vacuum. In some cases, an insect--such as a cockroach--may block the ear canal. In a case such as this, a physician may use mineral oil to kill the insect, along with a numbing agent that assists with insect extraction.