Ear Problems

Ear problems are often caused by an infection. However, other conditions may also cause ear pain or discomfort. Follow this chart for more information about ear problems.

Step 2

Answering Questions

  • Do you have a fever?

  • Are you experiencing pain deep in the ear and/or fluid draining from the ear?

  • Do you have redness and swelling of the outer ear and the surrounding skin?

  • Do you have headache-type pain and redness behind your ear or tenderness when you touch the bone behind your ear?

  • Do you have thick pus-filled (white) or bloody drainage from the ear canal that started after a sharp, sudden pain?

  • Is your ear swollen, and does it itch or hurt when you pull on your ear or earlobe?

  • Does your jaw joint “crack” when you chew or open your mouth, or do you feel tenderness in your jaw when chewing?

  • Do you hear/feel fluid in your ear, and feel pressure or stuffiness that can’t be cleared with coughing, yawning, or swallowing, and do you have cold or flu symptoms?

  • Do you have tooth pain on the same side as the ear pain when you bite down?

  • Did your ear pain start during an airplane flight or right after you traveled on an airplane?

  • Can you see or feel a “pimple” in the ear canal?

  • Is the affected person a child who doesn’t have ear pain or redness but is having problems hearing?

  • Is fullness of the ear present on one or both sides without any other symptoms? Does the person have a history of ear wax production?

  • Do you have swelling or thickening of one or more ears after wrestling or doing another contact sport or fighting event (e.g., boxing or mixed martial arts)?

Step 3

Possible Causes

  • Diagnosis

    You may have OTITIS MEDIA, an infection of the middle ear.


    Self Care

    See your doctor. Many ear infections will safely clear up on their own, but others require antibiotics.


  • Diagnosis

    Your ear canal, outer ear, and the skin around your ear may be seriously infected.


    Self Care

    See your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis

    Your pain may be from MASTOIDITIS, an infection of the bone just behind the ear, or from an ENLARGED LYMPH NODE.


    Self Care

    See your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have a RUPTURED EARDRUM.


    Self Care

    See your doctor. Avoid infection by keeping your ear dry while it’s healing. Putting a warm heating pad on your ear may help relieve the pain.


  • Diagnosis

    Your pain may be caused by OTITIS EXTERNA, an infection of the ear canal that is also called SWIMMER’S EAR.


    Self Care

    See your doctor. Keep your ear dry while it’s healing. Putting a warm heating pad over your ear may help relieve the pain.

    You can prevent swimmer’s ear by placing 3 to 5 drops of a half-alcohol, half-white vinegar solution in the ear before and after swimming or taking showers.


  • Diagnosis

    The source of your pain may be TEMPOROMANDIBULAR JOINT (TMJ) SYNDROME, a disorder that affects the jaw joint.


    Self Care

    Try an anti-inflammatory medicine. Try massaging the sore muscles around your jaw. Moist heat or cold packs may also help relieve the pain.

    If there’s no improvement in 1 or 2 weeks, see your dentist or doctor. If you’re experiencing severe pain or you can’t open your jaw, see your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis

    Your ear discomfort may be caused by a BLOCKED EUSTACHIAN TUBE. Colds and the flu often lead to this condition.


    Self Care

    Try an over-the-counter decongestant medicine for a few days. Putting a warm heating pad on your ear may help relieve the pain. Do not children 5 years and under cough or cold medicines.

    If the pain is intense or doesn’t go away in 1 or 2 days, see your doctor.


  • Diagnosis

    A tooth problem can radiate/send pain to the ear on the same side.


    Self Care

    Try a mild over-the-counter pain reliever, and see your dentist.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have BAROTRAUMA, also called AIRPLANE EAR, which is caused by changes in altitude and air pressure.


    Self Care

    If your symptoms don’t improve in a few hours or if the pain is severe, see your doctor.


  • Diagnosis

    A small INFECTION or LOCAL INFLAMMATION in the ear canal may be the cause.


    Self Care

    The infection/inflammation will probably go away by itself in 2 to 5 days. A mild pain reliever and warm compress may help relieve the pain.

    See your doctor if the pain becomes severe or if redness and warmth spread into or around the ear or if you develop fever.


  • Diagnosis

    This may be caused by a buildup of fluid (SEROUS OTITIS) or a buildup of wax in the ear canal (CERUMINOSIS or CERUMEN IMPACTION).


    Self Care

    Talk to your doctor. He or she can tell you how to treat the wax or fluid buildup.


  • Diagnosis

    This is likely a buildup of wax in the ear canal (CERUMINOSIS or CERUMEN IMPACTION).


    Self Care

    You can put 3-5 drops of warm water or 1 part warm water and 1 part white vinegar into your ear canal once per day to soften the wax. After 2-5 minutes, turn your head and lightly tug on your ear to discharge the drops. Do not insert cotton swabs into the ear canal.


  • Diagnosis

    This is known as CAULIFLOWER EAR and is a collection of fluid that occurs after direct trauma to the ear.


    Self Care

    Wearing appropriately sized ear protection during all practices, sparring, and bouts will prevent CAULIFLOWER EAR. If it develops, you can immediately have it drained and then compressed to reduce the chance that the fluid hardens and the changes become permanent.


  • Self Care

    For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think your problem is serious, call your doctor right away.


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