Ear and Neck Pain
Many things can cause pain in both the ear and the neck simultaneously, including infections, anatomical problems, and trauma. The following are common problems associated with ear and neck pain:
- Infections (non ear related)
- Ear Infections
- Foreign Objects in Ear
- Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome
A common cause of discomfort and pain in the ears and neck is air travel. Sitting for long periods in a cramped seat, experiencing fluctuations in air pressure cause most people some level of discomfort, and if somebody has a cold when they fly then this can be exacerbated. Using good quality earplugs prior to take-off and just before landing can ease the pain, as can travel pillows to support the neck during an in-flight snooze. The simple technique of holding the nose, with the mouth closed, and trying to blow out gently can equalise the pressure and relieve discomfort.
Respiratory infections, including colds can cause pain in the neck and ear. This type of neck pain may be due to inflammation of the membranes in the sinuses and the throat and due to blockages caused by excessive mucus in the nasal pathways. Natural remedies to reduce inflammation, lower mucus production, and look after mucous membranes can be helpful, such as garlic supplements and goldenseal root (along with conventional NSAIDs).
Infections from pierced ears are also possible and can cause both external and internal swelling and pain. Cleansing the area thoroughly and regularly is the best course of action for this type of infection, although serious infections will warrant medical attention to prevent permanent damage.
Children are often prone to ear infections which can cause both ear and neck pain. Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear which usually clears up within 28 hours but can cause severe pain and fever during that time. It is usually due to a bacterial infection but if viral it may not respond to antibiotics and can become recurrent, requiring fluid removal and, occasionally, surgery. An extreme, and rare, form of this is a condition called mastoiditis, which affects the skull.
Naturopathic treatment for children with ear infections has been found to be as helpful as traditional antibiotic therapy (Sarelly, 2003); this involved using herbal ear-drops containing allium sativum, verbascum thapsus, calendula flores, hypericum perfoliatum, lavender, and vitamin E in olive oil (5 drops 3 times daily).
A further cause of ear and neck pain can be the presence of foreign objects in the ear. Commonly resulting from curious children pushing things into the ear canal, or even accidental poking of the ear as an adult can lead to pain and inflammation. Beware being over-vigorous with cotton buds/q-tips as these can damage the ear if poked too far or too hard. If a foreign object is lodged in the ear, do not attempt to remove it at home as this could result in permanent damage to the ear; consult a doctor/nurse to have it carefully removed (this may require sedation if it is lodged in the ear of a fractious child).
There are numerous nerves connecting the muscles of the face, jaw, and neck to the cervical spine. If jaw muscles are tense and inflamed, as in Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome, then pain can be felt in the face, neck, and the ears. Persistent grinding of the teeth, which can occur whilst asleep, may also lead to ear and neck pain.
Other Possible Causes of Ear and Neck Pain
Fibrous lumps, or tumours can lead to neck and ear pain, whether benign or cancerous. Inner ear diseases, such as Meniere’s, where fluid accumulates causing pressure, can also trigger neck and ear pain. Conditions such as meningitis may present with neck and ear pain, particularly with stiffness of the neck. Herpes zoster virus (commonly known as shingles) can cause blistering in the ear, mouth, and the rest of the body, with pain felt all over. These are all conditions which require medical consultation.
There are numerous reasons for ear and neck pain, some short-lived and with no long-term repercussions, and some which require serious medical attention, with the potential for long-term damage. As any ear condition can interfere with the sense of hearing it is vital to have it checked professionally.
Sarell, E.M., Cohen, H.A., Kahan, E., (2003), Naturopathic treatment for ear pain in children, Pediatrics, Vol.111, No.5, part 1, pp.574-9. PMID: 12728112.