What Causes Ear Aches?
In adults, common causes of ear aches include otitis externa or swimmer’s ear and TMJ dysfunction. Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal and results from swimming in contaminated water or as a result of cotton swab use.
Ear Ache and Diabetes
In people with diabetes, otitis externa can spread far beyond the ear canal and can be life-threatening. Without proper treatment, damage from an ear infection can cause chronic or permanent hearing loss as well as more severe infections in the surrounding important structures. Therefore, prompt treatment is critical.
Ear Aches in Children
In children, ear aches are commonly due to an infection of the middle ear (acute otitis media), and can affect one or both ears. Otitis media can be serious because the infection can spread to nearby structures in the head, especially the mastoid located behind the ear. Otitis media may also cause hearing loss; in children, it may impair learning ability and even delay speech development. However, if it is treated promptly and effectively, hearing can almost always be restored to normal.
Ear Ache Not from Ear (TMJ)
Many patients see a Century Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist or otolaryngologist convinced that their pain is from an ear infection. When the earache is not associated with hearing loss and the eardrum looks normal, the ENT specialist will consider the possibility that the pain comes from TMJ.
“TMJ” pain is a common occurrence for many people, and it refers to pain or discomfort in the Temporo-Mandibular Joint. This is the hinge that connects your temporal bone (the bone that forms the side of the skull) and your mandible (the lower jaw) in front of your ear, making it possible for you to open and close your mouth. Think of your jaw as a lever; the TMJ is vital because it supports that lever. When you bite down, you put force on the object between your teeth and on the joint. Even though it is only a small disc of cartilage, the TMJ separates the bones so you can talk, swallow, chew, kiss, etc. When it is damaged, it can cause a significant amount of pain.
What Are the Symptoms of TMJ Pain?
Common symptoms of TMJ pain may include:
- Ear pain
- Sore jaw muscles
- Temple or cheek pain
- Jaw popping/clicking
- Locking of the jaw
- Difficulty in opening the mouth fully
- Frequent head and/or neck aches
- Ringing in the ears (also called tinnitus)
What Causes TMJ Pain?
In most patients, TMJ pain is a result of movement or displacement of the cartilage disc that causes pressure and stretches certain sensory nerves. Popping or clicking noises occur when the disk snaps into place when the jaw moves. In addition, the chewing muscles may spasm or not function efficiently, causing pain and tenderness.
These actions or situations can also damage the TMJ:
- Major and minor trauma to the jaw
- Teeth grinding
- Excessive gum chewing
- Stress and other psychological factors
- An improper bite or improperly positioned jaws
Treatment Options May Include:
If you experience continued ear pain, make an appointment with our office. Century ENT doctors can evaluate your ear and/or jaw to try and determine the source of the pain. Your doctor may suggest applying an ice pack to reduce swelling in cases of joint injuries. You may also find relief from stress and relaxation techniques, as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and other medications.
For more severe cases, an occlusal guard (or mouth guard) may be recommended to protect the joint and improve alignment. To help with TMJ pain, your ENT specialist may recommend additional consultations with your dentist or oral surgeon.
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