Otalgia is ear pain, commonly referred to as an “ear ache”. Primary otalgia exists when the pain originates within the ear. Referred otalgia is pain that originates outside of the ear. When primary otalgia is present, an ear examination typically shows some abnormality of the outer or middle ear. When referred otalgia is present, the ear examination is typically normal. Otalgia may or may not be associated with balance disorders and a reduction in hearing.
Common sources of primary otalgia include: otitis media (ear infection), mastoiditis, tumors, trauma, and infections of the outer ear or ear canal, and Eustachian tube dysfunction, which is the inability for the middle ear to pressurize properly. Tumors of the temporal bone, such as meningiomas, glomus jugulare and some types of lesions such as cholesteatoma, have been associated with otalgia, possibly because of nerve root compression or invasion.
Due to the complex nature of the nervous system, determining the origin of referred otalgia can be extremely difficult because it can come from many other areas of the body. Referred otalgia can originate from:
- Dental problems
- Cervical spine arthritis
- Tempromandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
- Neck and throat problems, including trauma, infection and tumors
- Areas remote to the ear where nerves which also serve the ear may be involved
Depending on the cause of otalgia, a variety of treatment options are available to either relieve symptoms or treat the underlying pathologic condition.