Why Do My Ears Ache? 7 Common Triggers

We have all been victims of earaches at least once, and we know they are not easy to maneuver. While being a fairly common occurrence in kids, you might have encountered it as an adult too. In my experience, ear pain most commonly starts in one ear with a possibility of affecting both ears as a dull, sharp, or burning pain that is constant or irregular. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause without a thorough examination, here are 7 of the most common roots of earaches.

7 Common Causes of Ear Pain

Your ear has three main parts, i.e., the inner, middle, and outer ears. The pain can have its origin in any of these locations. It could also occur as a ‘referred pain from other parts of your body, for instance, teeth, joints in your jaw, or the throat.

  1. A Jaw Disorder (Or Toothache) – Dental problems and improper oral health ultimately lead to toothache and jaw disorders. That, upon further complication and absence of dental care, can lead to severe earaches. Wondering how? Well, your jawbone is one of the principle nerves that radiates back to your ear. So, any discomfort that you face in your jaw joint or the teeth can more often lead to repeated episodes of ear pain and tenderness.
  2. TMJ Headache – TMJ or Temporomandibular joint connects your jawbone to your skull and allows you to perform activities like talking, laughing, and chewing.  People who suffer from TMJ headache or Temporomandibular joint syndrome often undergo earaches as a consequence. It begins as a headache occurring when the hinge connecting your jaw to your skull is under pressure. Since it is located near the auditory canal, any pain and inflammation in this joint directly affect your ear causing an abnormal ringing sound.
  3. Swimmer’s Ear – Medically referred to as otitis externa, Swimmer’s ear is an infection in your outer ear canal leading to pain and discomfort. If you had a nice dunk into the pool or the ocean recently and are now experiencing pain in your ears, more often than not, it has something with the water that must have remained in your ear. It creates a moist environment aiding the growth of bacteria and fungi and might even further irritate the skin in the ear canal.
  4. Wax Buildup – Your ear canal produces a waxy oil, more commonly known as earwax, that prevents dust, foreign particles, excessive eater, and microorganisms from entering the ear. The natural phenomenon is that any excess wax exits the canal and into the ear opening and is then washed out. However, in some instances, your glands might produce more earwax than necessary, which then becomes hard enough to block the ear and lead to ear pain.
  5. Airplane Air Pressure – If you have ever been on an airplane, you must have undergone that uncomfortable or painful feeling of fullness in your ears. It usually occurs when the plane is ascending or descending. Popularly known as the airplane ear, this condition occurs when the air pressure in your middle ear and the environmental air pressure get imbalanced. Unsurprisingly, it poses stress on your eardrum leading to pain.
  6. Ill-Fitting Hearing Aids – Continuously wearing hearing aids that are not the right fit for you can lead to a sore spot in and around the ears with time. It is crucial to know that as you age, your ear canal starts to collapse. So it doesn’t matter if you have worn your device for years because the improper fitting might still be the culprit for your earache.
  7. Adult Ear Infection – Lastly, infection in the middle ear caused by a virus or bacteria often develops during or immediately after being sick with a cold or an upper respiratory infection. It is known as otitis media. Adult ear infections, although rare without a history of ear problems, might knock on your doors. Mainly due to viruses, a fungus, or bacteria.

Ear pain is unpleasant, distracting, and frustrating. The good news is that majority of the above causes, including TMJ, are treatable. TMJ treatment, if undertaken promptly, can save you from any permanent damages. So don’t wait for your earache to worsen and consult your doctor right away.

Also Read: Muffled hearing in Ear


Shen Chao

Shen Chao is part of Dr. Joshua Hong’s Smile Clinic. While working at the Smile Clinic, he has witnessed how dental implants can improve people’s smiles and boost their self-confidence. If you are interested in learning more, email him at or get more information at

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