Otalgia and Ear Pain

Ear Nose | Otorhinolaryngology | Otalgia and Ear Pain (Symptom)


Pain in the ear may occur due to conditions within their own ear, the ear canal, or the visible external ear. Otalgia or an earache is ear pain. Primary otalgia is ear pain that originates inside the ear. Referred otalgia is ear pain that originates from outside the ear.

Otalgia is not always associated with ear disease. It may be caused by several other conditions, such as impacted teeth, sinus disease, inflamed tonsils, infections in the nose and pharynx, throat cancer, and occasionally as a sensory aura that precedes a migraine.


The potential causes of otalgia can be divided into the following categories:

(1) Infectious Otalgia, such as otitis media, the most common reason for otalgia in children, swimmer’s ear, sinusitis, perichondritis and mastoiditis

(2) Neoplastic Otalgia, such as cancers involving the ear, parotid gland, or aerodigestive tract, benign/malignant growths on or near certain nerves

(3) Musculoskeletal Otalgia, like tension headache, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder - the most common cause of otalgia in adults with a normal ear exam

(4) Other, such as migraine, headaches, earwax accumulation, GERD, trauma to the ear, jaw or neck

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose otalgia, the physician will also assess your nasal and oral cavities, will inspect the ear canal and tympanic membrane with an otoscope and will look for otitis media. Observation of the outer ear will likely be performed as well looking for signs of infection or sites of trauma.

As there are many different causes of otalgia, there are similarly many different possible treatments. The treatment of choice will be linked to the cause of otalgia. The treatment may be as simple as antibiotics and ibuprofen, or it may involve surgery.