Can Adults Get Earaches?

side profile sick young woman having ear pain

Earaches commonly plague children, but this ailment may affect adults as well. While an earache may affect both ears simultaneously, they more frequently affect only one ear at a time. Some of the more common causes of earaches in adults include:

  • Earwax blockage – Earwax is natural and healthy. This waxy substance helps clean the ear canal and protect the inner ear from some bacteria, fungi, water, and small foreign objects. Though earwax is necessary, if it becomes pushed too far into the ear canal or if the earwax hardens before draining naturally, it can become impacted. Home treatment is usually effective, but some patients may require a doctor’s assistance to remove the impaction.

  • Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear – Swimmer’s ear is an infection in the tube connecting the opening of the ear to the eardrum. It is common in people who spend a lot of time submerged in water, which gets trapped in the ear canal and helps breed bacteria. Frequent use of earbuds or cotton swabs may also cause this sort of infection.

  • Sinusitis – The ears, nose, and throat are all connected. Therefore a sinus infection may cause pain in one or both ears. Sinusitis typically refers to a sinus infection, but colds and allergies may also lead to swelling of the sinus cavities and ear pain.

  • Sore throat – Swelling in the throat may transfer to the ears, causing pain in one or both ears. A virus, bacterial infection, tonsillitis, allergies, or environmental factors (such as smoking or dry air) may cause a sore throat and related ear pain.

  • TMJ – The Temporomandibular Joint is where the lower jaw (mandible) joins to the skull on each side of the head, right in front of the ears. While the initials refer to the joint itself, they are also frequently used to describe a group of health problems related to that joint, such as arthritis, teeth grinding, or frequent clenching of the jaw. Pain from this joint may travel to the ear.

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience severe ear pain that stops suddenly, as this may indicate a rupture of the eardrum, an uncommon but serious injury. Other symptoms that may indicate a need for medical attention include severe ear pain, dizziness, swelling around the ear, severe headaches, drooping or weakness in the facial muscles, or blood/pus draining from the ear.

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