What Causes Earaches?

Earaches can be extremely painful, no matter your age. Although earaches are more common in children, because youngsters have shorter and less-angled eustachian tubes (more on those later), earaches can strike teens and adults, too.

Kimberly Bolling, MD, a caring and expert physician, offers earache care at her offices in Bowie, Maryland. If your earache is severe, you can also contact our offices for a same-day urgent care appointment. 

Why do you have an earache? The following questions may help you figure out the answer.

Did you recently go swimming?

If you got earaches as a child, you may have been told that you had “swimmer’s ear.” When water gets trapped in the outer part of your ear canal, bacteria and other pathogens can grow and cause an infection.

Dr. Bolling may give you antibiotic ear drops if you have swimmer’s ear. You can prevent swimmer’s ear by wearing a bathing cap that covers your ears and by carefully drying your ears with a towel after swimming. 

Never push anything into your ear canal, though, not even a towel, and especially not a cotton swab or any other small or pointed object.

Were you on an airplane?

Most of the time, your ear normalizes the pressure on both sides of your eardrum. When you fly in a plane, however, the air pressure at high altitudes is much less than the pressure near the Earth’s surface.

Your inner ear has air trapped inside it from when you were on the ground. But when you're on a plane that’s flying miles high, the air pressure outside the inner ear doesn’t match what is inside it. 

When your ears pop or ache on a plane, it’s because the excess pressure inside your ear pushes your eardrum outward. You can release some of the pressure that’s built up in your inner ear by: 

You can also perform a Valsalva maneuver: Pinch your nostrils shut. Close your mouth. Blow “through” your nose. Repeat often, especially when the plane’s landing. You can also get special earplugs to help equalize ear pressure during a flight. 

After you land, your ears might still have unequal pressure inside, which could cause an earache. You might also have trouble hearing for a day or two after your flight. If it bothers you, contact Dr. Bolling.

Do you have allergies, a cold, or a sinus infection?

Children are more susceptible to earaches because the tubes that run from their middle ears to the back of their throats — the eustachian tubes — are very short and don’t angle downward. Liquid gets trapped in the tubes, causing congestion and infections.

If you have allergies, a cold, or a sinus infection, fluid can build up in your middle ear. Trapped fluid often becomes infected, too. Untreated, a middle-ear infection could cause hearing loss.

Dr. Bolling first determines what type of infection you have. If it’s a bacterial infection, she may prescribe antibiotics. If it’s not bacterial, she may treat you with antihistamines or decongestants. 

Have you cleaned your ears recently?

Normally, your ears produce just enough wax to trap bacteria and dirt. As the earwax dries and falls out of your ear canal, it takes that debris with it, too.

Sometimes, though, your ear over-produces wax, which can build up and cause pressure in your ear. If you’ve recently tried to clean your ears using a cotton swab or other object (which you should never do!), you may have pushed the earwax even farther into your canal, causing impaction. The impaction can cause or worsen an earache. 

If you have excessive earwax, you may be able to dissolve it with a special kit you can buy at the pharmacy. If that doesn’t work, Dr. Bolling safely removes your excess earwax with specialized tools.

Do you have other symptoms, too?

If you have a headache or jaw pain, the tension and pain can radiate to your ears. Even an infected tooth can cause an earache. If you have an earache with a sore throat, you may have tonsillitis or another condition that requires medical treatment.

Don’t ignore the pain of an earache. Find out what’s causing it and get relief by calling our Bowie, Maryland, office today at 301-352-0090 or requesting an appointment online

You can also send a message to Dr. Bolling and the team here on our website. She may be able to see you on the same day, if you schedule an urgent care visit for your earache pain.

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