A burning sensation can be felt due to a sudden rush of blood to the ears. This condition usually resolves within a few minutes. It can also arise with injury, infections, allergies, skin diseases and even psychologically stressful situations.Ears can be divided into three parts – the outer, middle and inner ear. With complaints of burning ears, most people are actually referring an outer ear problem.
However, sometimes a burning or tingling sensation in the ear could be a sign of certain health problems, especially if it is experienced frequently without any apparent reason.
Causes Of Burning Ears
There are a variety of causes of burning ears or earache. Some of them affect the ear itself while others are from conditions affecting areas close to the ears.
Common reasons for burning ear include:
- Fluid building up deep inside the eardrum. Known as glue ear, this affects children more than adults (bullous myringitis).
- Infection of the outer ear (cellulitis)
- A boil or infected hair follicle in the ear canal
- Eczema in the ear canal ( seborrhoeic dermatitis)
- Injury in the ear canal from objects poked inside, such as cotton buds or sharp objects
- Blockages in the ear from plugs of earwax or objects pushed in which have become stuck
- Throat infections (including tonsillitis) and colds
- Jaw pain, known as temperomandibular joint pain
- Dental abscess in the mouth or other tooth pain, such as wisdom teeth problems
- Trigeminal neuralgia or facial nerve pain
- Trauma to the Ear :
An injury to the ear can damage the sensory nerves, which can produce a burning pain or sensation in the ear.
- Otitis Media:
It is the medical term for an infection of the middle ear. Otitis media is the most common type of ear infection that is usually associated with a buildup of fluid in the middle ear. An infection of the middle ear can produce symptoms like ear pain, a sensation of fullness in the ear, swelling, and a burning pain. Otitis media more commonly results from a cold or upper respiratory infection.
- Otitis Externa:
Like otitis media, otitis externa or infection of the external ear can also produce a burning or tingling sensation in the affected ear. This condition is more commonly known as swimmer’s ear.
- Sinus Infections:
Like upper respiratory infections, sinusitis or sinus infections can also produce a burning pain in the ear. Sinus infections are usually caused by common cold, allergic rhinitis, a deviated septum, or the presence of polyps in the nasal cavity.
- Diabetes and Peripheral Neuropathy: Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes can damage the peripheral nerves, and produce unusual skin sensations like tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation in the extremities of the body, such the hands, feet, toes, and sometimes, the external ear.
- Trauma to the Cranial Nerves: Cranial nerves are the nerves that originate from the base of the brainand any kind of traumatic injury to these may produce burning sensations in various parts of the body.
- Stroke: A burning sensation in the ear may be associated with a condition like stroke, especially if it is accompanied by facial numbness, dizziness, headache, blurred vision, etc.
- Allergies: Allergies to metals (in jewelry), hair spray, dye, cosmetics, and even certain food can produce a burning sensation in your ears.
- Red Ear Syndrome
It is a rare condition, in which there are episodes of redness of ears, with burning sensation and sometimes pain. This may be present in one or both ears and may last for few seconds or longer. These symptoms may be spontaneous or brought on by certain triggers like the movements of the head or neck, chewing food, coughing, sneezing, drinking, tooth grinding or other movements of the head, face and jaw region.
Some conditions that can contribute to the red ear syndrome include;
- Migraine – Red ears may also be noted in case of migraine sufferers, especially during the episode of migraine and headache.
- Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD) – Persons with disorders of the temporomandibular joint or jaw joint may sometimes, feel ears to be hot, red and painful.
- Cervical Spine Disorders – Disorders of the neck or cervical spine can irritate the nerves and blood vessels in the surrounding area and result in red and hot ears.
Other Possible Causes
Apart from the aforementioned causes, a few other conditions may be associated with pain or a burning sensation in the ear, which include:
- Exposure to Environment
- Chemical burn
- Nerve compression
- Buildup of earwax
- Multiple sclerosis
- Hormones Reaction
Symptoms associated with burning ear sensation depend on the underlying cause. Burning ears symptoms that may occur with otitis externa include ear redness, ear swelling, ear tenderness, and discharge from the ear canal. Additional symptoms that may occur with otitis media include fever, sinus congestion, hearing loss, dizziness, and vertigo.
Common symptoms include:
- ear discharge
- temporary dulled hearing and pain
- Ear may feel blocked or full.
- enlarged and sore glands in your neck or around the ear
How to diagnose
To diagnosis this condition, physicians can evaluate the medical history of the affected individual, along with conducting physical examinations, CT scan of the ear and the brain, and neurological examinations. Physical examination using otoscope (instrument to look into the ear) can usually do to check the ear inner condition. A healthy eardrum is pinkish grey in color and transparent. If an ear infection is present the eardrum may be inflamed, swollen or red. Further tests may be needed depending on physical examination results.
- An allergic reaction (especially to a particular food and medicine) can sometimes lead to a potentially life-threatening condition, called anaphylaxis. The signs and symptoms of this condition include itching, hives, swelling of the tongue, hoarseness, dizziness, anxiety, confusion, irregular heart rate, and low blood pressure.
- Complications of a middle ear infection can be caused by other serious problems:
- Redness, swelling, pain behind the ear, and fever may be caused by an infection of the bone located behind the ear (mastoiditis). Pain will get worse when you press on the bone behind the ear. This infection is rare and usually occurs 10 to 14 days after a middle ear infection.
- Headache with severe stiff neck, irritability, confusion, and excessive sleepiness may be caused by an infection of the lining of the brain (meningitis).
- Severe dizziness (vertigo) and hearing loss may be caused by swelling and irritation in the inner ear (labyrinthitis).
- Serious burning ears complications that lead to Ramsay Hunt Syndrome
Ramsay Hunt syndrome is a complication of shingles infection that occurs when the varicella-zoster virus infects a nerve in the head. It affects facial muscles and the inner ear. Beware if you have or recently had shingles and you begin to notice ear pain or abnormal sounds in your ear, or a shingles-like rash on your ear, face, neck, or head.
- Sensor neural deafness (permanent hearing loss) and paralysis of the face.
- Cholesteatoma (tumor or cyst most commonly found in the middle ear and area of the mastoid bone)
Earache or burning ear is usually treatable and unlikely to lead to long-term problems. Otherwise, accurate diagnosis plays an important role in the treatment of this condition. If it is caused by an infection, then antibiotics can be required for burning ear treatments.
- Appropriate painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain and fever.
- Holding a warm flannel to the painful ear for around 20 minutes is one self-help tip the NHS offers for earache. However, if an ear infection is suspected, avoid getting the inside of the ear wet.
- A pharmacist may be able to recommend over-the-counter eardrops for earache. Olive oil may also help loosen earwax.
- Don’t use eardrops or olive oil if the eardrum has burst.
- If a child has long-term earache or repeated ear infections small tubes called grommets may be recommended by a doctor to help keep the ear free of fluid and infection.
- A doctor may prescribe antibiotics for ear infections, although some research suggests antibiotics may not always be an effective treatment.Eardrops containing antibiotics and steroids, if the infection is bacterial in origin. Ear drops containing antifungal medications and steroids, if the infection is fungal in origin.
- surgical repair of the perforated eardrum
- oral antibiotics
How to Prevent
- Consume a diet rich in omega-3-fatty acids like fatty fish, olive oil, almonds and walnuts, whole grains like brown rice, fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water and remain active with some form of regular exercise or walks. Trigger foods that lead to burning ears should be noted and avoided.
- Discontinue using ear jewelry and avoid further piercings of the ears.
- Reduce contact with harsh hair care products, like hair dyes and even hair sprays.
- Use ear plugs when swimming or even when having a shower.
- Dry the ears thoroughly after showering or swimming to help prevent outer ear infection.
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