Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
Pain behind ear can be a very annoying medical condition that you should see your physician about immediately. The reason is that there can be many different ailments that cause this pain behind ear. For example, if you have pain behind ear along with a fever you could have an ear infection, which needs to be taken care of to help prevent the spread of the infection. When you see your physician you may have to have a few tests done to determine what the cause is, especially if the pain behind ear has been bothering you for a while. What tests will need to be done will also depend on how severe and intense the pain is. Pain behind ear can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, or gender.
Causes of Sharp Pain Behind Ear
Pain behind ear is generally caused by an infection in the inner, outer, or middle ear but there can also be other causes.
- Otitis media — this is an infection of your middle ear and is one of the more common causes of pain behind ear. The most common causal agents for this type of infection are viruses or bacteria. Having an infection in your auditory canal, on the skin around your ear, or in your outer ear could also be a factor in causing a middle ear infection.
- Ruptured or damaged eardrum — this could happen due to pressure by the excessive buildup of fluid behind your eardrum. An accumulation of fluid or pus is often a symptom of an ear infection. Other contributing factors can include injury to your ear by vigorous cleaning with a cotton swab or foreign object.
- Mastoiditis — this is an infection of your mastoid bone, which is situated behind your ear at the base of your skull and connects with your middle ear cavity. When a person has mastoiditis it could be a complication of having chronic middle ear infections.
- Otitis externa — another name for this is swimmer’s ear and is an infection of your ear canal and outer ear. Having some type of trauma to the skin of your ear canal can make you susceptible to this type of infection. As a result pathogens can enter through the break in your skin from the trauma and cause swimmer’s ear.
- Temporomandibular joint disorders — this cannot only cause pain behind hear but also pain in your jaw. This is the jaw joint that connects your lower jawbone to your temporal bone. A person could be susceptible to this disorder because of a jaw injury, bruxism, or a whiplash injury.
- Block Eustachian tube — this is a canal that connects your middle ear to your nasopharynx, which consists of the back of your nasal cavity and upper throat and controls the pressure within your middle ear. Normally this tube is closed but if it becomes blocked it could be responsible for pain behind ear in addition to around your ear. Your Eustachian tube can become blocked due to a sinus infection, allergies, cold, flu, or pressure changes when flying.
- Ceruminosis — this is the medical term that refers to the buildup of earwax in your ear canal. When there is an excessive accumulation of earwax it could cause a feeling of fullness in your ear, itching, muffled hearing, and pain behind ear. It can be caused by the overproduction of way by your glands. It could also happen if you have a narrow ear canal. It can also be caused by you unknowingly pushing the wax deeper into your ear canal when cleaning your ears with a cotton swab.
- Cervicogenic headache — this is pain that radiates from the base of your neck to your head. When you have excessive stress on the upper joints of your neck due to certain movements of your neck or poor posture can cause damage to your ligaments, nerves, joints, and muscles of your neck and cause this pain along with pain behind ear. It can also be caused by whiplash. This type of headache affects about four percent of the population and accounts for seventeen percent of severe headaches. It is also present in approximately half of the people who have suffered whiplash.
When you see your physician for pain behind ear he will do a physical examination and ask your symptoms. They may also ask if:
- You are running a fever
- The pain is on the outside or deep inside your ear
- There is any fluid dripping from your ear
- The pain resembles a headache
- The bone behind your ear is tender when you touch it
- There is any tenderness in your jaw
- You feel any fluid in your ear that does not go away after swallowing
- You have a toothache on the same side
Answers to these questions will help your physician diagnosis the cause of your pain behind ear and what type of treatment will be needed.
Treatment for Pain Behind Ear
Depending on what the underlying cause is for the pain behind ear you may need to take a round of antibiotics. If it due to excessive earwax your physician will treat and remove the excessive wax in their office. For the pain your physician may have you take over-the-counter pain medication.