When Is an Earache Something More?
When Is an Earache Something More?
With the flu season in full swing, the number of patients who visit us complaining of earaches is on the rise.
There are many causes for earaches in both children and adults, some are minor issues that can be taken care of at home, while others might be serious enough to merit a visit to our ER. Here are some tell-tale symptoms that will help you tell the difference.
What Causes Earaches?
There are three main types of ear infections:
- Inner Ear Infection: This condition although diagnosed as an inner ear infection, may be a result of inflammation and not necessarily an infection. However, in some instances, it could be a sign of meningitis a more severe condition that will require immediate medical attention.
- Middle Ear Infection: This condition is known as otitis media. The infection can be caused by either a bacterium or a virus; the condition causes the area behind the eardrum to swell. Middle ear infections are more common in children, but adults can also suffer them.
- Outer Ear Infection: This type of infection occurs in the external opening of the ear and the ear canal that connects to the eardrum. This infection is commonly called swimmer’s ear as it tends to affect swimmers during the summer.
Ear infections are more common in children than adults; however, adult ear infections can be more serious.
Ear Canal Injuries
A scrape from a cotton swab, fingernail or other foreign body inserted into the ear canal can be the reason for your earache.
Ear Canal Abscess
When a hair follicle inside the ear canal becomes infected, it can create a painful abscess similar to a pimple. In most cases, the abscess needs to be drained by a doctor.
Harden earwax can cause a mild earache pain; however, if the piece of earwax has been pushed in by cotton swabs, it can cause a blockage in the ear canal, which will increase the pain.
Foreign Body’s in the Ear Canal
Small children are known to insert small objects into their ear canals. This can cause pain especially if the object has sharp edges or has been pushed in very far.
A ruptured eardrum may be the result of:
- Injuries to the head and neck area
- Changes in air or water pressure
- Inner ear infections
- Loud noises
Sometimes what seems to be ear pain is actually the result of an illness located in another body part like:
- Tonsil infection
- Tooth infection
- Sinus infection
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention
Most ear infections can go away on their own, so a minor earache may not be a worry, but if your symptoms don’t improve within 24 to 48 hours you should make an appointment with your primary care physician.
If, however, your ear pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms you should seek immediate medical attention in our Emergency Room:
- A knot or swelling formed under or behind the ear
- Difficulty moving parts of your face in a normal way
- Stiff neck
- Personality changes — such as a child becoming extremely fussy or lethargic
- Sudden high fever
- Vomiting or Nausea
- Severe drowsiness
- Recent head trauma or blow to the ear
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