In order to understand why we sometimes experience pain in our ears, it helps to know how this incredible organ works.
The ear has three main anatomical divisions: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.
The external part of our ear, called the pinna, is part of the outer ear. The outer ear is also made up of the auditory canal and the eardrum.
The tympanic membrane separates the outer ear from the middle ear. Three small bones – the malleus, incus and stapes make up the ossicles – which transmit vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear.
The inner ear, also known as the cochlea, is shaped a bit like a snail, and is filled with fluid. The stapes drive this liquid back and forth, responding to changes in the sound pressure. This causes a thin membrane to vibrate, creating electrical impulses. These impulses reach the auditory nerve and travel to the brain, where the brain interprets them as sound.
Not difficult to understand how this delicate structure might sometimes be subject to pain.
Mostly, we can divide ear pain into two main types. Primary otalgia can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, or by a blockage of wax in your ears, (but you should never try to remove this wax yourself). Secondary otalgia might be caused by a dental problem like a cavity, an abscess or an impacted molar.
Otitis media Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, and is often seen just after – or at the same time as – an upper respiratory tract infection. It is the most common cause of primary otalgia, and happens more often in the winter. It generally causes pain and the eardrum may look red or cloudy when the doctor examines it.
Otitis externa, which you may also know as ‘swimmer’s ear’, is a skin infection of the outer ear canal. Symptoms may include pain and itching. The usual cause is moisture that gets trapped in the ear canal and creates favourable conditions for bacterial growth, which can happen after swimming, or even after a bath or shower. It is more common in summer.
Myringitis is another kind of ear infection which can cause painful blisters on the ear drum. It is caused by the same viruses or bacteria that cause middle ear infections.
Our ears can also be damaged by a foreign body like a cotton swab, an insect or other small object.
Barotrauma is the description of severe pain or damage that might happen because of a rapid change of pressure (in an airplane, while scuba diving, etc.), or because of an explosion. It may result in a rupture of the ear drum.
Always read and follow the label.
Family physicians see a lot of earaches in their patients! Ear pain is very common. It can be any type of pain in any part of the inner, middle or outer ear, and it affects both adults and children.
What makes our ears sore? Well, if you have a look at how the ear works, you’ll see that it is a delicately made organ with lots of small moving parts! A build-up of fluid behind the eardrum (in our middle ear) happens if the Eustachian tube gets blocked, trapping the fluid. Quite often, and especially in young children, who are the most likely to get a middle ear infection, this blockage is caused by a cold or an allergy. Read more about the causes of ear pain.
An ear infection can cause inflammation and swelling. And when our ears hurt, we want pain relief NOW. Whatever the cause, ear pain relief is a priority when faced with an earache and can be easily managed with the use of Auralgan®.
Always read and follow the label.
Your doctor might first ask you a few questions about when the pain started, and where exactly it hurts, which you might be able to explain better by touching your ear where it hurts. You might have your temperature taken, to make sure there is no fever. Then the doctor will look inside your ear, using a tool called an otoscope, which in most cases gives a good view of your ear canal and ear drum.
What your doctor sees
Otitis media (an infection of the middle ear): Fluid fills the middle ear, and air and fluid bubbles might be seen behind the eardrum. The eardrum will be red and inflamed.
If you have otitis externa (an infection of the outer ear), your doctor will notice that your ear canal is swollen and inflamed. If it is really swollen and painful, the doctor may not be able to insert the otoscope into your ear, which is a sure sign that you have otitis externa.
If you have bullous myringitis (a form of acute otitis media), your ear tissue will look inflamed and there will be fluid blisters noticeable during an ear exam.
For an explanation of some of the terms your doctor might use when discussing ear pain with you, see below.
Here are some terms your doctor might use if you visit his/her office because of ear pain:
Acute otitis media. This is a medical term for the common ear infection. Otitis means ear inflammation, and media means middle. Acute otitis media is a bacterial or viral infection of the middle ear, which is located behind the eardrum.
Analgesia. A word that describes the absence or relief of pain. Analgesic: a medicine that is given to reduce or relieve pain.
Antibiotic resistance. This describes a condition in which these micro-organisms keep multiplying even if they’ve been treated with antibiotics, and usually means the bacteria has built up immunity to the medication. Antibiotic resistance has been linked to overuse or inappropriate use of antibiotics.
Bacteria. These organisms are responsible for approximately 70% of otitis media cases, and include Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis.
Effusion. This is a collection of fluid.
First-line agent. The first treatment of antibiotics a doctor may prescribe for an ear infection.
Otalgia. The medical term for ear pain.
Otitis media without effusion. Eardrum inflammation without fluid in the middle ear.
Otitis media with effusion. Fluid is present in the middle ear but there may be no signs or symptoms.
Perforation. This refers to a rupture or tear in the eardrum.
Otoscopy. An ear examination done by a physician, using a medical device called an otoscope.
Your ears and your hearing are so important… so taking care of them just makes sense. Here are some tips:
- * Protect your ears with some kind of headgear when you're doing sports like rugby or boxing or any other contact sport.
- * If you want to have your ears pierced, make sure that you have them done by a professional, in the most hygienic of settings.
- * Don't put anything bigger than a finger covered in a facecloth in your ear. Your ear canal is narrow and delicate and it doesn't take much to damage it.
- * Try to avoid noisy places like concerts and construction sites. Wear ear plugs if you are going to be exposed to loud noise. Don't jack up the volume on your radio or television, especially if you're using headphones or earbuds.
- * Use ear plugs if you go swimming, and dry your ear carefully with a towel after getting it wet.
- * If you have an earache, see your doctor. You don’t want to risk damaging your ear drum or your middle ear. When you have ear pain, and need relief…try Auralgan®.
- * Lorsque vous pratiquez des sports de contact comme le rugby ou la boxe, protégez vos oreilles avec le type de casque approprié.
- * Si vous souhaitez vous faire percer les oreilles, assurez-vous de faire appel à un professionnel, dans un endroit à l’hygiène irréprochable.
- * Ne mettez rien de plus gros qu’un doigt recouvert d’une débarbouillette dans votre oreille. Le conduit auditif, étroit et délicat, peut facilement être endommagé.
- * Essayez d’éviter les endroits bruyants comme les concerts et les chantiers de construction. Si vous prévoyez être exposé à des bruits forts, portez des bouchons. N’écoutez pas la radio ou la télévision trop fort, surtout si vous utilisez des écouteurs.
- * Portez des bouchons lorsque vous allez nager, et assurez-vous de bien assécher votre oreille avec une serviette après être allé sous l’eau.
- * Si vous souffrez d’un mal d’oreille, consultez votre médecin. Il n’y a pas de risque à prendre avec la santé du tympan et de l’oreille moyenne. Si vous sentez une douleur à l’oreille et que vous souhaitez la soulager… essayez Auralgan®.