Ear problems may be caused by many different health
problems. In children, ear pain is more likely to be a symptom of an
inflammation, infection, or fluid buildup in the external or middle ear. But
ear pain at any age may be a symptom of:
Ear problems caused by an injury to the ear can occur at any
age. Common injuries include the following:
- A fall or a forceful, direct blow to the side of
the head can
burst the eardrum or damage the tiny bones in the
inner ear that send sound to the brain.
- Loud noises or explosions
can damage the eardrum (acoustic trauma).
- Atmospheric pressure changes (barotrauma) can cause
problems with the
eustachian tube and trap air in or keep air out of the
middle ear. Middle ear problems can be severe (for example, the ear drum can
burst or the middle ear can fill with blood or pus) or mild and only be felt as
changes in pressure.
- Cuts or scrapes may injure the outside of the
ear or ear canal. For more information, see the topic
Ear Canal Problems (Swimmer's Ear).
- Cleaning the ear canal too
often, too forcefully, or with a cotton swab, bobby pin, or sharp fingernail
can cause irritation or injury.
- Burns or frostbite can cause ear
injuries (thermal injuries).
- Objects placed in the ear can cause
injury to the ear canal or the ear drum (tympanic membrane).
Hearing loss often comes with age. As people get older, ear
problems are more likely to be related to:
- Heredity. The age of onset and how quickly the
hearing loss progresses can often be determined by studying family members with
- The buildup of
earwax. For more information, see the topic
- Exposure to loud noises, such as
setting off an air bag during a car crash, machines at work, power tools,
gunshots, or loud music.
- Other serious medical problems, such as
Ménière's disease or an
- Skin reaction
(dermatitis) on the outside of the ear or in the ear canal from perfume, hair
dye, or wearing hearing aids.
The ear shares nerves with other parts of the face, eyes, jaw,
teeth, and upper neck. Pain that feels as if it is in the ear may be coming
from another part of the head or neck. This is called
referred ear pain and is more common in older adults.
Causes of referred ear pain can include dental problems, jaw pain (temporomandibular disorder), salivary gland infection , or a
Use the Check Your
Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.