Ear Pain Can Often Be Treated At Home Yet Should Never Be Ignored

Symptoms, length of discomfort may signal serious issues

DAYTON, Ohio (February 16, 2017) – Ear pain in adults can be a common problem, but should never be ignored when accompanied by other symptoms or is hanging around too long.

Ear pain can manifest itself in different ways and, in some cases, deceive the person who is experiencing it, said Katherine Schmidt, MD, an internal medicine physician with Jamestown Family Medicine. The most common symptoms of ear pain are pressure or a throbbing sensation in the area of the ear. However, tooth pain or even headaches can originate from the ear, signaling that an infection may be present, she said.

“It’s common to have people come in with really bad tooth pain – especially in the molar area or upper teeth – and discover that what they are dealing with is actually based in the ear,” said Dr. Schmidt, who practices with Premier. “It’s surprising for a person because all along they have thought they have a tooth infection or even something stuck in their teeth.”

The close proximity of sensitive areas explains how ear pain can manifest itself into other symptoms. Thankfully, ear pain is usually easy to diagnose and treat. The most common reasons for the pain are inner ear or sinus infections, wax build-up and “swimmer’s ear.”

Those who find themselves plagued by ear pain can try some of the following steps recommended by Dr. Schmidt:

  • Evaluate the symptoms – Not all ear pain can be treated at home. Ear pain that also includes other symptoms such as a fever, coughing and sinus pressure should always be evaluated by a physician first to rule out other causes.
  • Consider surrounding events – Ear pain can often be caused by recent activity. A person who experiences ear pain after swimming could have “swimmer’s ear,” which can be remedied with the use of over-the-counter medication.
  • Too much wax – Wax build-up usually causes hearing to become muffled or dull. Try over-the-counter emulsifying drops that can help loosen ear wax. Standing in a warm shower and allowing the water to run outside the ear can also help loosen wax. Small amounts of baby oil, mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide can also be placed inside the ear to help loosen wax.
  • Approach it tenderly – Issues such as wax build-up or “swimmer’s ear” can be helped with over-the-counter remedies but be careful not to harm the inside of the ear by the use of Q-tips or other instruments. Improper use of objects inside the ear can impact ear wax or even pierce the ear drum.
  • Treat the pain – Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can not only lessen the pain, but also cut down on any inflammation that is taking place inside or around the ear.

Ear pain can usually be treated at home, but there are times when it can signal something more serious. Dr. Schmidt said it is always better to err on the side of safety especially when ear pain involves loss of hearing, drainage from the ear, extreme pain to the touch or a sense of vertigo. Also, ear pain that continues for more than several weeks should be evaluated.

“A sudden change in symptoms should send someone to their doctor or emergency department right away,” Dr. Schmidt said. “Everything is so close to the ear in the head including the brain, therefore, there is always the concern for more serious infections such as meningitis.”

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