Welcome to Buoy Health

Learn about your ear canal pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your ear canal pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Ear Canal Pain Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having ear canal pain.

Take a quiz
Your Ear Canal Pain May Also be Known as:
Aches and pains in ear
Aches and pains in ears
Aches and pains in inner ear
Ear ache
Ear discomfort
Ear hurts
Ear is painful
Ear pain
Ear soreness
Ears ache

Ear Canal Pain Symptoms

Your ear canal is about one inch long and runs from your eardrum to the outer opening of your ear. It tends to be a common location for painful infection, especially in young children and in swimmers; but the condition can be readily treated by your doctor and there are several things you can do to keep it from happening again.

Ear pain is also called otalgia. An infection of your ear canal is called otitis externa or swimmer's ear.

Ear canal pain characteristics:

  • Moderate to severe pain just inside your ear.
  • Itching within your ear that may intensify if you pull on the outside of your ear.
  • Feeling that your ear is blocked , full, or under pressure.
  • A thick greenish or yellowish drainage of pus from within the ear.
  • Fever.
  • Feeling tired and ill.
  • Difficulty hearing.
  • Red, swollen skin around the opening of your ear. The skin may also look rough and scaly.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your upper neck.
  • Babies and toddlers with ear canal pain may not want to eat.

Who is most often affected by ear canal pain?

  • Children
  • Anyone swimming regularly, especially in non-chlorinated water such as lakes, rivers, or the ocean.
  • Anyone diving from heights, since this can force water into the ear canal.

Are ear canal pain symptoms serious?

  • A mild earache, treated right away, will usually clear up readily with no lasting effects.
  • If not treated properly or precautions are not taken, such as refraining from using cotton swabs or other objects for cleaning, infections can become recurrent and never really heal.
  • Neglected infections can become serious, because the infection can spread and cause permanent damage to your hearing.

Ear Canal Pain Causes Overview

Many conditions can have ear canal pain as a symptom. The most common are those involving bacterial or fungal infections and damage to the canal from improper cleaning, as well as foreign body irritation.

Most common ear canal pain cause types:

  • Bacterial or fungal infections from getting your head under the water of hot tubs, swimming pools, lakes, rivers, or /oceans. If the water becomes trapped in your ear canal, the bacteria or fungus can multiply. The risk increases if:

    • You have a buildup of earwax inside your canal.
    • You have damage within your canal (a scratch, cut, or scrape) from cotton swabs or other instruments used inside your ear in an attempt to clean it.
  • Irritation from hair color, hairspray, etc. that has found its way inside your ear.
  • Itching from a case of dermatitis or eczema which has spread from your arms or face to the skin of your ear canal.

Less common ear canal pain cause types:

  • A contact allergy (from something you've touched) or a systemic allergy (from something you've consumed) can show up in the skin of your ear canal and cause itching and inflammation.
  • Earplugs, hearing aids, bluetooth devices, and other objects placed in your ear must be kept clean to avoid irritation and even infection.
  • Children will sometimes place small foreign objects inside the ear canal, which can scrape the skin and cause damage and infection.

Rare and unusual ear canal pain cause types:

  • Ear pain can be "referred" pain, meaning it is actually coming from somewhere else but is felt in your ear. The pain may come from:

    • The teeth or jaw, as with teething in children.
    • Infection or inflammation in the structures of your mouth and throat.
    • A tumor, growing elsewhere in your head and neck.
  • A tumor growing near or within your ear canal.

Top 10 Ear Canal Pain Causes

  1. 1.Middle Ear Infection

    Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, occur when the tubes that carry sound become clogged with debris like mucus.

    Your should go to your primary care doctor in the next day for an ear examination. It is likely your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, sore throat, fever, new headache, mucous dripping in the back of the throat
    Symptoms that always occur with middle ear infection:
    ear canal pain
    Symptoms that never occur with middle ear infection:
    vertigo (extreme dizziness), face weakness, facial numbness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Temporomandibiular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    You should visit your primary care physician. This is a complex condition to treat, because the causes are not always clear. Treatment may include resting the jaw with a soft diet, pain medications, and physical therapy.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, history of headaches, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, pain in the back of the neck, jaw pain
    Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibiular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder:
    pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Chronic Earwax Blockage

    Earwax production is a normal process, as the body makes wax to protect the ear from infection. Sometimes ear wax can build up and cover the eardrum which is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of the ear canal and picks up sound from outside.

    You can go to your local pharmacy or retail clinic. You should NOT try removing the wax with cotton swabs or Q-tips, because you run the risk of pushing the ear wax further into the ear canal, and potentially damaging the ear canal or eardrum. A variety of ear drops exist that can be bought at the pharmacy, such as Debrox, Murine, and Cerumenex. These will help soften the wax so it can exit the ear canal. You may also use other remedies such as mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin ear drops instead of brand-name drops. If symptoms worsen, you should see your physician, who may be able to flush the wax out of the ear.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, dry cough, ear canal pain, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness)
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic earwax blockage:
    ear canal pain
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic earwax blockage:
    swollen ear, fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  4. 4.Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)

    Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal.

    You should go to your primary care doctor in the next day or so. There, diagnosis can be confirmed by observation. Treatment with antibiotic drops will be started.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, jaw pain, ear pain that gets worse when moving
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Non - Specific Ear Pain

    Ear pain not caused by infection or injury that is a variation of normal.

    Your ear pain is normal and unlikely to be caused by a serious illness. You can take over the counter medication like Tylenol to treat the pain.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    ear canal pain
    Symptoms that always occur with non-specific ear pain:
    ear canal pain
    Symptoms that never occur with non-specific ear pain:
    severe ear canal pain, swollen ear, ear discharge, ear pain that gets worse when moving
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Ear Canal Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having ear canal pain.

    Take a quiz
  6. 6.Earwax Blockage

    Ear wax production is a normal process, as the body makes wax to protect the ear from infection. Sometimes ear wax can build up and cover the eardrum, which is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of the ear canal and picks up sound from outside. Ear wax buildup has nothing to do with poor hygiene, and it is not possible to prevent a build-up by washing.

    You should go to a retail clinic to be treated. You should NOT try removing the wax with cotton swabs, because you run the risk of pushing the ear wax further into the ear canal, and potentially damaging the ear canal or eardrum. A variety of ear drops exist that can be bought at the pharmacy, such as Debrox, Murine, and Cerumenex. You may also use other remedies such as mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin ear drops instead of brand-name drops.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, vertigo (extreme dizziness), ringing in the ears
    Symptoms that never occur with earwax blockage:
    swollen ear, fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  7. 7.Burst Ear Drum

    The ear drum is a thin membrane that vibrates as sound hits it, transmitting that vibration into signals that the brain understands! When it bursts, your hearing is affected. It typically happens after some force to the ear drum, such as a blow to the ear, an exploding firecracker, a fall onto water, or even a sharp object in the ear.

    You should go to an urgent care center immediately. There, a doctor can confirm the diagnosis by looking in the ear. Further, he/she can clean out any debris and put in a protective cotton plug. Treatment involves keeping the ear dry to heal along with antibiotic ear drops (ofloxacin 5mL, 2-5 drops) if the ear is contaminated with dirty water or objects. You will then be referred to an otolaryngologist who will follow your recovery.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    ear canal pain, constant ear pain, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, vertigo (extreme dizziness)
    Symptoms that always occur with burst ear drum:
    ear canal pain, recent ear injury, constant ear pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Chronic Ear Infection (Suppurative Otitis Media)

    Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media is persistent drainage from the middle ear due to a damaged membrane. It is considered chronic when it lasts for more than 6 weeks.

    You should visit your primary care physician, who may suggest topical therapy or systemic therapy. Topical antibiotics are the first line of treatment for most patients.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    hearing loss in one ear, ear canal pain, pus leaking from the ear
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic ear infection (suppurative otitis media):
    pus leaking from the ear
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Head and Neck Cancer

    There are five main types of head and neck cancer, which are all named according to the part of the body where they develop: laryngeal (voice box), nasal cavity and sinus, nasopharyngeal (air passage way behind the nose), oral (mouth), and salivary gland cancers. Most of these cancers are squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), meaning they begin in the flat (squamous) cells that make up the thin surface layer of the structures in the head and neck.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate your care with a cancer specialist (oncologist) for further testing. It is impossible to definitively diagnosis head and neck cancers without lab testing and biopsy. Treatment is likely to include surgery and chemotherapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, hoarse voice, trouble swallowing, pain with swallowing
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Inflammation of the Epiglottis

    Epiglottitis is inflammation of the epiglottis, tissue that covers the trachea (windpipe), which helps prevent coughing or choking after swallowing. It is usually caused by the bacteria H. Influenzae but can also be caused by other bacteria or viruses that cause upper respiratory infections.

    Call 911 immediately for an ambulance now! Epiglottis can be a life-threatening emergency. Though with proper treatment at a hospital, the outcome is usually good.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, pain with swallowing
    Symptoms that never occur with inflammation of the epiglottis:
    cough
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service

Ear Canal Pain Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate ear canal pain treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You have severe, unrelenting ear pain with fever, hearing loss, and sometimes deformity of your skull around your outer ear due to infection. There is a risk of this infection spreading to your brain or spinal cord.
  • You have a painful earache and also have a condition such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or lung disease, or you are on chemotherapy.
  • You have ear canal pain with facial paralysis and, sometimes, a bloody discharge from your ear.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Chronic ear infections that appear one after the other.
  • Itching within your ear.
  • Excessive wax: A specialist can do a proper cleaning of your ear without risk of damaging your canal.

Ear canal pain remedies that you can try at home:

  • Strengthen your immune system through improvements in diet and exercise.
  • Keep your ears dry by using earplugs when swimming and removing them promptly afterwards.
  • After swimming or showering, use a hair dryer on a low setting to dry the inside of your ears. You can also use over-the-counter after-swim drops to help prevent swimmer's ear.
  • Don't use cotton swabs (or any other object) to clean your ears. They can damage your skin and push dirt and germs farther into your ear canal, increasing chances of infection.
  • Place cotton balls in your ears when using hair color or hairspray.
  • Try a hot or cold compress on the painful ear.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or other NSAIDs.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Ear Canal Pain

  • Q.Is your ear pain getting better or worse?
  • Q.Is your ear pain constant or come-and-go?
  • Q.How long has your ear pain been going on?
  • Q.How severe is your ear pain?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our ear canal pain symptom checker.

Take a quiz

Ear Canal Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced ear canal pain have also experienced:

    • 9% Sore Throat
    • 8% Headache
    • 5% Cough
  • People who have experienced ear canal pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 44% Less Than a Week
    • 24% Less Than a Day
    • 12% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced ear canal pain were most often matched with:

    • 33% Middle Ear Infection
    • 13% Temporomandibiular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
    • 4% Chronic Earwax Blockage
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Ear Canal Pain Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having ear canal pain.

Take a quiz