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What Causes Tingling Ears?

By Kimberly Sharpe
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Tingling ears can be caused by a number of different things, some more serious than others, but the condition is commonly an indication of an ear infection or some type of nerve damage in the face or head. Problems with the teeth and jaws can also be to blame, as can certain throat problems; common colds and respiratory allergies may be part of it, too. The nerves connecting the ears, nose, and throat overlap in many ways, which means that sensations felt in one of these three places may actually be housed somewhere else. Certain drug interactions can also cause tingling, and numbness that persists for long periods of time could also be a sign of a more serious condition like Multiple Sclerosis or diabetes. Anyone who is worried about the tingling they feel, or who experiences the pins-and-needles sensation for more than a day or two, should probably schedule a medical exam to get to the root of the issue.

Simple Infections

Ear infections are one of the most common causes of ear tingling, which is also known as “ear paresthesia” in medical circles. These sorts of infections are particularly common among young children but can strike nearly anyone, and they happen when fluid builds up in the middle ear. Bacterial or viral infections are usually to blame. The cavities within the ear are very small, and pressure changes can compress trapped fluid which can cause problems with the tiny vibrations that allow people to hear. Tingling is usually a fairly typical reaction to that pressure and it will usually go away as the infection clears up.

Head colds and respiratory allergies can also be a cause for largely similar reasons, particularly when fluid is trapped in the sinuses. The sinuses are a network of small “sacs” throughout the face, and some are situated just above and behind the eardrums. When these become inflamed or pressurized people are likely to feel it in their ears. Even irritation in the nose can cause on-and-off tingling in the ears, though, thanks to the shared nerve pathways these parts of the face utilize. The ears, nose, and throat are very closely linked, and pressure and pain in one place is often felt in another.

Dental Problems

Certain problems or infections in the mouth can also lead to pain in pressure in the ears. The ears and jaw sit in close proximity to each other, and the pain of something like impacted teeth or certain gum conditions can cause on-and-off tingling in the ears in both places. In these cases, though, people are more likely to experience the sensation in only one ear at a time, depending on the location of the problem in the mouth.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage is another common cause. The face is home to many different nerve structures, which is part of why it is so sensitive to touch and changing environmental conditions. This also makes it more prone to damage in the case of trauma or some sort of injury, though. One of the most common indications of nerve damage is a tingling that is accompanied by a persistent ringing sensation, known as tinnitus. Pinched or severed nerves sometimes require surgery to repair.

Medical Interactions

The sensation can be a side effect of certain medications, as well. In these instances the tingling isn’t usually harmful and doesn’t actually correlate to an injury or pressure situation within the ear, but it can still be disconcerting. People who think they might be experiencing the sensation as a result of a new medication might want to look into alternatives. Tingling or ringing in the ears can be annoying to the sufferer if it goes on for very long and can even disrupt sleep, which will inadvertently affect everyday life or job performance.

More Serious Conditions

In rarer cases, tingling ears can be symptomatic of bigger conditions like Multiple Sclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, diabetic neuropathy or tumors in the head and neck. These are all very serious, and typically require prompt treatment. The problem can also indicate a possible myocardial infarction, which is a heart attack. In some instances, though, the sensation might owe simply to long-term exposure to loud music or progressive hearing loss. Though not as threatening as some other degenerative conditions, hearing loss is still something that many healthcare providers treat as serious.

Treatment Options

The sort of treatment a person will need to stop persistent tingling usually depends on the underlying cause. Doctors will often wait for a few days to see if the problem will resolve itself and, if not, will typically start by doing a complete diagnosis. He or she may order tests such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a hearing test. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may also prove useful. If the doctor finds that a dental or jaw problem is causing the symptom, he may refer the sufferer to an oral surgeon or dentist for further evaluation.

Otherwise, the condition is often treated with antibiotics to relieve infection or other anti-inflammatory drugs to bring the pressure down. If these remedies don’t work, it may be an indication of a larger problem that wasn’t detected. Health care experts usually tell people to speak up if they experience tingling that doesn’t seem to be connected to some other condition like a cold and doesn’t respond to prescribed medications, since this could be a sign of a larger problem. Any tingling that is truly disruptive should be evaluated, too.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon359303 — On Dec 16, 2013

In my case I feel like there is a bug walking in my ears. I feel the little feet crawling. I have gone to the doctor and he found nothing.

By Truncated — On Oct 15, 2013

I get tingling ears sometimes and this usually means I have an ear infection. My ear doesn't hurt during an infection as the infection bypasses the outer and middle ear. This means that my main symptom is really bad vertigo and dizziness as the infection impacts my sense of balance. Sea sickness medication helps in the short term before the antibiotics kick in.

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