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How do I Choose the Best Treatment for Pain Behind the Ear?

By Madeleine A.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The best treatment for pain behind the ear typically depends on the cause of the pain. Although over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can significantly relieve pain, the individual needs to find out where the pain is originating. The pain can radiate to the neck or head area, making it difficult to move the head and sleep in a comfortable position.

Mastoiditis refers to a condition where the mastoid bone behind the ear becomes inflamed. This can be caused by injury, disease, or infection, and can be extremely painful and make a patient sensitive to the touch. In addition, an enlarged lymph node can cause pain behind the ear. When an individual has an infection, lymph nodes behind the ear and elsewhere such as on the sides of the neck and under the chin can enlarge and cause pain.

When pain behind the the ear is caused by an infection, antibiotics are sometimes recommended. Sinus infections and upper respiratory infections that are caused by bacteria usually respond to antibiotics. After the antibiotics have been completed and symptoms of the infection have cleared up, lymph node swelling typically resolves. It is important to remember, however, that lymph node swelling and pain can linger long after the resolution of the infection.

Chronic sinusitis caused by allergies can also cause pain behind the ear. When the sinuses swell and cannot properly drain, fluid and other debris can settle in the sinus cavities located in the back of the head, contributing to pain. Frequently, decongestant medication relieves sinus pain and pressure, which can significantly lesson pain caused by sinus congestion. Decongestant preparations can cause rapid heart beat, anxiety, and insomnia, so patients should talk to their doctors before taking them.

Occasionally, pain behind the ear can develop after a neck injury or nerve disorder. When individuals experience a pinched nerve in the neck or a cervical disc problem, pain not only manifests in the neck area but also behind the ear. For this type of pain, anti-inflammatory medications and acetaminophen are usually recommended. Sometimes, however, prescription pain medication is needed for severe pain, and in rare cases, surgical intervention might be indicated when disc or nerve problems persist.

When infection is present and the pain and pressure behind the ear do not relent, alternative methods of treatment may be needed. Sometimes, another course of antibiotics might be needed, or even a different antibiotic altogether might be recommended to relieve symptoms. In addition, non-medication methods of reducing this type of pain include applying a heating pad or a cold pack to the area.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Sep 16, 2014

@Animandel-- That's due to the pressure that develops in the ear during flights. The change in elevation causes pressure to build up. If the pressure isn't released, it will cause great discomfort.

Chewing gum basically releases the pressure by opening up that part of the ear. Yawning does the same thing. Something I often do is close my nose and blow with my mouth closed which opens up my ears. Using saline nasal spray is also helpful for keeping the pressure in the ears down during flights.

By candyquilt — On Sep 15, 2014

@literally45-- You really ought to see your doctor about this. I'm not a doctor. It's possible that the infection hasn't cleared up entirely. You might need to be treated again. Or the infection might have resulted in inflammation and sensitivity. The pain could be resonating to the surrounding areas.

See your doctor at the earliest and tell him or her about the pain. Make sure that the infection has cleared up completely. If the pain is not due to an infection, you'll need to get the physical and diagnostic testing done to figure out what's causing it.

By literally45 — On Sep 15, 2014

Can an ear infection cause pain behind the ear?

I had an ear infection which was treated with antibiotics. But I have lingering pain behind my ear which doesn't go away. Is this a result of the infection? Will it go away soon?

By Animandel — On Sep 05, 2014

My younger son used to hate to fly because he would get terrible pains in his ears during the flights. When he was younger he would cry, and watching him in so much agony was more than we could take, so we avoided airplanes. Occasionally, we had no option but to fly and we tried various remedies, but they didn't work.

One day we were on the plane and a lady sitting near us overheard our conversation about my son's ear pain. She gave him a piece of gum and told him to chew it. I don't know why this worked, but he didn't have any pain for the entire flight. Now every time we fly we take plenty of gum.

By Sporkasia — On Sep 04, 2014

@Feryll - There are a long list of treatments for the pain behind the ear caused by sinus congestion, including the ones mentioned in this article, but I have allergies and I don't like to take medications because my body doesn't react well to many of them.

One simple step you can try to relieve sinus congestion is to stand and then lower or tilt your head downward. This should help your sinuses drain through your nasal passages because gravity will naturally cause the fluid to flow. Make a point of doing this for several minutes three times a day and see whether you notice any changes.

By Feryll — On Sep 03, 2014

The pain I get is behind the ear and inside of the ear. I usually notice a feeling like a thick fluid draining into my ear and then the ear feels full. The draining part is related to sinus problems, or so I have been told. I guess the fluid gets caught up and that's when the ear infection starts.

The bad thing is that I have been given antibiotics and while they work for a short time and clear up the infection, they do nothing to prevent the infections from returning in a few weeks or a couple months. Honestly, with the draining fluid then the developing infections and then the clearing of the infections, I feel like I have continuous sinus issues.

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