Ear Pain

How Do You Know If Ear Pain Is Serious?

written by Becki Andrus
How Do You Know If Ear Pain Is Serious?

A small earache is a normal part of life, especially when you have a head cold or sinus issues causing fluid buildup in the ears. Sometimes, the earache will go away within a few days.

But there are times when medical treatments might be necessary. If you think it might be more serious than a minor earache, don’t hesitate to visit an ENT so you can talk about your symptoms with an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist.

Not All Earaches Require Medical Treatment

Just because you notice increased pressure and pain in the ear, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to head straight to the doctor. There is nothing wrong with scheduling an appointment when you feel it is required. But there are times when “wait and see” is a good option.

For mild earache symptoms, give it a few days to see how the symptoms develop. When the symptoms seem to be worsening, it’s a good idea to reach out to a medical expert for help.

Identifying the Underlying Causes of Your Earache

Finding the root cause of the pain is an important first step. The doctor must know the reason why your ear is hurting before they can put together an effective treatment plan.

In children, one of the most common reasons for earaches is the development of an ear infection. This is because the Eustachian Tubes (located within the ear) are smaller in children, making it more difficult for fluid to drain out.

Sometimes, the backed-up fluid happens within the ear as a secondary effect of another health condition. For example, a respiratory infection can increase the production of mucus in the sinuses, which drains into the nose and ears.

People of all ages can get a cold or the flu. Then an earache can develop after. Or there are other ways that fluid and pressure can be introduced into the ear, such as spending time in a swimming pool.

Other potential causes of ear pain include:

  • Foreign Object Lodged in the Ear: This problem is most common in children. For example, a child might have pushed a small toy (such as a Lego) into the ear canal, causing damage. Medical treatment is recommended to remove the object safely and prevent additional damage to the ear canal.
  • Sudden Loud Noises: Loud noises can cause damage to the eardrum, resulting in ear pain and problems. Pay attention to ear pain if it is associated with loud music, being around heavy machinery, or any other loud sounds that might affect your hearing.
  • Changes in Pressure: Many things can change pressure and cause a response within the ears. For example, you might notice these pressure changes when you are on an airplane, driving up a mountain, or scuba diving. It’s essential to allow the ears to regulate and adjust slowly to the changing pressure.
  • Injury to the Head or Jaw: Not only can an injury cause visible damage, but the injury can affect the inner areas of the ear. If any type of impact or injury occurs and results in ear pain, then it’s a good idea to talk to an ear specialist, such as an ENT.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ): Tightness in the jaw joint can cause radiating pain into the ear and other parts of the head. You might be clenching or grinding your teeth at night or during the day. If this occurs, it’s important to look at treatment options, such as wearing a night guard to correct the TMJ issues – which will naturally relieve the ear pain caused by this condition.
  • Earwax Buildup: It’s normal to have earwax production because the body uses earwax as a way to keep the ears clean. If the earwax production is having problems, it might cause a buildup of gunk and wax that blocks the ear canal – often resulting in ear pain. Don’t try to remove impacted wax on your own with a cotton swab or any other object. Instead, reach out to an ENT for assistance.
  • Eye or Sinus Infection: Remember that the eyes, sinuses, and ears are all connected. When an infection develops in one part of the upper respiratory area, then it can cause a domino effect on other areas as well. Treating the underlying infection can often help to clear up the ear infection symptoms.
  • Other Causes: There are many other things that might be contributing to your ear pain, such as tooth infections, a sore throat, arthritis in the jaw joint, tumors, or other viral infections.

Your ENT will ask about different symptoms, illnesses, and environmental conditions. Then, you can work together to identify an accurate diagnosis so an effective treatment plan can be created.

When to Talk to an ENT About Ear Pain

If you are having mild or moderate ear pain symptoms and any of the following apply, then it might be time to book a consultation with your ENT:

  • Dizziness
  • Severe or minor hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Any signs of infection, including low-grade fever
  • Bloody or sticky discharge coming from the ear
  • Pain is increasing
  • Pain lasts for more than a few days
  • Blowing your nose results in ear pain
  • Recurring ear aches

Usually, it’s recommended that you visit a doctor if you notice that the ear pain isn’t subsiding after 24 – 48 hours.

Signs Emergency Treatment Is Needed for Ear Pain

It’s uncommon, but there are times when emergency medical services might be necessary for ear pain. Here are a few signs that you might need emergency care – watch for these symptoms with your ear pain:

  • Severe drowsiness
  • Stiff neck
  • High fever
  • Vomiting and/or nausea
  • Head trauma or injury

Talk to an ENT About Your Ear Pain

If you still suffer from ear pain and find that your symptoms don’t go away after a few days of home treatment, then it’s time to reach out to an expert for medical care. You do not have to live with ear pain.

Our Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat team offers the full-service solutions you need. We take the time to build a relationship with each patient, so we can understand your unique needs. In addition, our nurses and doctors are proactive with diagnostics to help with an effective treatment plan.

These ENT services are available for families in and around the Dallas and Collin County areas. You are always invited to book a meeting at our offices in Plano or Frisco, TX. Complete the online form when you are ready to book an appointment or call us at (972) 596-4005.

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“We consulted Dr Tseng based on our pediatrician's recommendation. He's so great a doctor who took time to explain us everything and genuinely guided us in the right direction. He's such a caring, genuine and knowledgeable doctor. Oh how I wish there were more like him! ”

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“I have used Collin Co. ENT and Dr. Kenny Carter for over 3 years, primarily for ear problems. The staff has been consistently helpful and friendly to me. When I have had problems needing immediate attention and explained the need, have been able to get an appointment within a reasonable time to address the problem. I recommend Dr. Carter and his staff.”

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