Ear pain is the most common complaint heard by otolaryngologists. It is most commonly seen in diseases and infection of the outer ear canal (often called swimmer’s ear). There are many nerves that surround and give sensation to the ear canal. When the canal is infected, these nerves are stimulated to produce the pain.
Swimmer’s ear can be brought by many factors such as puling wax out of your ear, poking at the ear, swimming in pools, or injury to the ear. A common source of the infection is increased moisture trapped in the ear canal, bathing, or showering, increased humidity or living in warm moist climates. Bacteria that normally live in the skin and canal grow, causing infection and irritation of the ear canal.
Symptoms of this type of ear infection include swelling, tenderness of the ear, redness, hearing loss, clogged feeling and or discharge from the ear canal. The middle ear and ear drum are spared from the infection.
Ear pain caused by external ear infections can be severe. Ear drops with antibiotics and steroids are the most frequently used medication for treating these infections as well as pain relievers. Sometimes the canal is so swollen that drops can not get in to do their work. The otolaryngologist may want to place a piece of cotton soaked in the medicine inside the canal and ask that you leave it there for one to two days. This is called a wick.
During the treatment of an external ear infection, we recommend that you keep your ears clean and dry. During the infection you can keep your ears dry by not swimming and while taking a shower, place a cotton ball or silicone plug on the outside of the ear to prevent water from going in. ENT Doctors in New York and New Jersey have found this to be necessary in the cold and wet climates where they often treat their patients.
Other than swimmers ear, ear pain can come from outside sources such as the jaw, TMJ (temporal mandibular joint syndrome), throat pain, and nerve pain from other disorders.
Why do ears itch?
An itchy ear can be a maddening symptom. Sometimes it is caused by a fungus or allergy, but more often it is from chronic dermatitis (skin inflammation) of the ear canal. Canals that do not make a lot of wax can also itch as the hairs in our ears touch one another. One type cry skin condition is is eczema, a condition similar to dandruff in the scalp; the skin is dry, flaky, thickened, and inflammed (irritated). This is common in patients with food or environmental allergies. If left to flake it can lead to an outer ear infection, or infected eczema.
A steroid cream, antifungal cream, or drop is usally given as treatment when the ears itch. There is no long-term cure, but it can be kept controlled.