Pain in One Ear Canal Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your pain in one ear canal symptoms, including 10 causes and common questions.

Pain In One Ear Canal Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your pain in one ear canal

Contents

  1. 10 Possible Pain In One Ear Canal Causes
  2. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  3. Statistics
  4. Related Articles

10 Possible Pain In One Ear Canal Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced pain in one ear canal. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Middle ear infection

Middle ear infection, also called acute otitis media, is a bacterial or viral infection of the air-filled space behind the eardrum. An ear infection is usually secondary to a cold, allergy, or influenza.

Young children are most susceptible due to weaker immune systems and to the small size and shape of the Eustachian tubes in the ears. Children in group care settings are more exposed to colds and flu and therefore more prone to ear infections.

Symptoms include ear pain due to inflammation; drainage of fluid from the ear; and sometimes hearing difficulty. Children may cry, run a fever, and pull at the affected ear.

If symptoms last more than a day, a medical provider should be seen. Long-lasting or repeated ear infections can lead to hearing damage and to speech and learning problems.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Middle ear infections often clear up on their own and antibiotics may only be needed for infants and severe cases. Warm compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers can be used. Do not give aspirin to children.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, sore throat, new headache, fever, ear canal pain

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

Swimmer's ear (otitis externa)

Swimmer's ear, or otitis externa, is an infection of the canal which runs from the eardrum to the opening of the ear.

It is caused by anything that introduces bacteria, fungus, or a virus into the canal. Water that stays inside the ear after swimming is a common cause, as are cotton swabs used for cleaning or earpieces that create irritation.

Most susceptible are children, because they have narrower ear canals that do not drain well.

Early symptoms include redness, itching, and discomfort inside the ear canal, sometimes with drainage of clear fluid.

Even mild symptoms should be treated because they can quickly get worse. The infection can spread and intensify, becoming very painful with increased drainage, swelling, fever, and loss of hearing.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination of the ear canal. Lab tests may be done on a sample of the discharge from the ear.

Treatment includes having a medical provider clean the ear canal of debris and discharge, and a prescription for antibiotic and/or steroid eardrops.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fever, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, jaw pain, ear pain that gets worse when moving

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck

Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder: pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Cholesteatoma (a non-cancerous growth in the ear)

Cholesteatoma is a type of skin cyst that is located in the middle ear and mastoid bone in the skull. It can be a birth defect though more commonly occurs as a complication of chronic ear infection.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: ear fullness/pressure, ringing in the ears, pain in one ear canal, vertigo (extreme dizziness), hearing loss in one ear

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, dry cough, ear canal pain, ringing in the ears, ear fullness/pressure

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

Pain In One Ear Canal Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your pain in one ear canal

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.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: ear canal pain, constant ear pain, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness), hearing loss

Symptoms that always occur with burst ear drum: ear canal pain, recent ear injury, constant ear pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Glue ear (otitis media with effusion)

"Glue ear" is caused by fluid built up in the middle ear (under the eardrum). It happens more frequently in kids than adults because of having frequent colds and less developed tubes in the ear. In adults, it's caused by acute or chronic sinusitis in 66% of cases. It may also be caused by cigarette smoke, allergies, reflux, genetics, or bacteria, all of which stimulate the production of the fluid.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: ear fullness/pressure, constant hearing loss, hearing loss in one ear, trouble hearing that is better in noisy environments, ear canal pain

Symptoms that always occur with glue ear (otitis media with effusion): ear fullness/pressure, hearing loss in one ear, constant hearing loss

Symptoms that never occur with glue ear (otitis media with effusion): ear canal pain, fever

Urgency: Wait and watch

Ear plug made of skin cells

Keratosis Obturans is a rare disease where materials that make up the skin create a plug in the ear, causing pain, discharge, and hearing changes.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: hearing loss, pain in one ear canal, ear discharge, hearing loss in both ears, severe ear canal pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: dizziness, dry cough, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, ringing in the ears

Symptoms that never occur with earwax blockage: swollen ear, fever

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Acute bacterial sinusitis

Acute bacterial sinusitis, also called bacterial rhinosinusitis or "sinus infection," has symptoms much like viral rhinosinusitis but a different treatment.

Any sinusitis usually begins with common cold viruses. Sometimes a secondary bacterial infection takes hold. Like cold viruses, these bacteria can be inhaled after an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Anyone with viral sinusitis, upper-respiratory allergy, nasal passage abnormality, lung illness, or a weakened immune system is more prone to bacterial sinusitis.

Symptoms include thick yellowish or greenish nasal discharge; one-sided pain in the upper jaw or teeth; one-sided sinus pain and pressure; fatigue; fever; and symptoms that get worse after first improving.

See a doctor right away for severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, or vision changes. These can indicate a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made with a simple examination in the doctor's office.

Bacterial sinusitis can be treated with antibiotics, but this is not always necessary. Often rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants are enough.

Prevention is done through good lifestyle and hygiene to keep the immune system strong.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches

Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis: sinusitis symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis: clear runny nose, being severely ill

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Pain In One Ear Canal

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • What makes your ear hurt worse?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your pain in one ear canal. These questions are also covered.

Take quiz

Pain In One Ear Canal Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced pain in one ear canal have also experienced:

  • 5% Headache
  • 4% Sore Throat
  • 3% Ear Fullness/Pressure

People who have experienced pain in one ear canal were most often matched with:

  • 36% Middle Ear Infection
  • 36% Swimmer'S Ear (Otitis Externa)
  • 27% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

People who have experienced pain in one ear canal had symptoms persist for:

  • 43% Less than a week
  • 25% Less than a day
  • 13% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Pain In One Ear Canal Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your pain in one ear canal