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.

Our trusted Symptom Checker is written and reviewed by physicians and patient education professionals. Find a possible diagnosis by choosing a symptom and answering a few simple questions.

Remember, be sure to consult with you doctor if you feel you have a serious medical problem.

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

  • Do you have thick pus-filled 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?

  • Do you hear 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?

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

    URGENT
    SEE YOUR DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY.


  • Diagnosis

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


    Self Care

    URGENT
    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

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


    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 a week or 2, 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.

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


  • Diagnosis

    A tooth problem can radiate 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 in the ear canal may be the cause.


    Self Care

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

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


  • Diagnosis

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


    Self Care

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


  • Diagnosis


    Self Care

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