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Medical Minutes: Answers to frequently asked questions

Ear Aches

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Siri Akal


Question: Dr. Akai, why do I get earaches?

Answer: There are many different causes of earache.

Wax build-up can cause an earache.

It is very common for people to have wax build-up in their ears and when water gets into the ear it has a tendency to push the wax against the eardrum causing pain or a clogged ear. Usually your doctor can remove the wax by syringing (washing-out) the ear. To make cleaning out heavy built-up wax easier, it is sometimes advisable to use wax-softening drops for several nights prior to syringing the ear.

Infection can cause an earache.

Some people can develop an infection in the outer ear canal called otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, and they experience pain especially when they pull on the ear. This can be treated with eardrops once your doctor has determined whether it is a bacterial or fungal infection.

Many children suffer from middle ear infections that can occur after they have had a cold. They usually complain of a fever, poor appetite and earache. Many cases are viral but some are caused by bacteria and require antibiotic treatment.

Eustacian tube dysfunction can cause an earache.

The eustacian tubes (ET) are slender passages between the middle ear and throat that allow equalization of pressure across the eardrum. Anything that prevents the movement of air through the ETs will produce earache particularly descending in an airplane or, even worse, when scuba diving in deeper water. Your doctor can prescribe nasal decongestants or nasal sprays to help.

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