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Referred Ear Pain

The ear shares nerves with other nearby structures including the face, eyes, jaw, teeth, and upper neck. Pain that feels as if it is in the ear may actually originate in another structure in the head or neck. This is called referred ear pain and is more common in older adults. While ear infections can occur in adults, other causes of ear pain are more likely, including:

  • Diseases of the joints and muscles of the jaw (temporomandibular [TM] dysfunction or TM disorders).
  • Neck or cervical spine problems.
  • Dental problems, such as impacted third molars (wisdom teeth) or dental infections in the upper back teeth.
  • Other ear, nose, and throat infections. Examples are:
    • Sinusitis.
    • Infection of the throat (pharyngitis).
    • Infection of the voice box (laryngitis).
    • Salivary gland infection.
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels in the temple (giant cell arteritis).
  • Nerve problems such as trigeminal neuralgia, which affects the nerves of the face.
  • Cancer of the head or neck.
By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised January 12, 2012

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