The ear, nose, and throat communicate by hollow air spaces or sinuses that allow the transfer of infections in these parts. A middle ear infection is quite common, especially among children. Complaints of ear infections are occasionally associated with a headache that ranges in intensity from mild to moderate.
How does it feel?
Ear infection accompanied by headache is associated with many symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Dull, aching pressure on the side of the head
- Pain in the face
- Jaw pain
- Neck stiffness
- Mental confusion
- Loss of balance/equilibrium
- Vertigo (spinning surroundings)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty hearing
- Tinnitus (ringing ears)
- Low-grade fever
- Loss of appetite
- Runny nose.
Headache caused by ear infections often develop due to following conditions:
- Cold or flu: The eustachian tube (auditory tube) acts as a channel between the middle ear cavity and the pharynx, maintaining equilibrium between the fluid inside the ear and air pressure in the surroundings. Cold or flu leads to fluid accumulation inside the tube that disrupts this equilibrium, resulting in headache and may be associated with other symptoms including vertigo.
- Infectious otitis media: Viruses and bacteria inside the nose and throat may be transmitted to the pharynx and cause fluid buildup inside the middle ear cavity. It may result in an ear infection and headache.
- Sinusitis: Sinusitis is often followed by ear infection due to transmission of various microorganisms like bacteria and viruses, among sinuses within the skull. Inflamed sinuses become congested and exert pressure that results in a headache.
- Mastoiditis: An infection in the mastoid air sinuses of the mastoid bone behind the ears is often significant in repeated ear infections and may result in headaches.
- Meningitis: The spread of middle ear infections into the meninges (protective coverings of the brain and spinal cord) is also a manifestation and may cause headaches.
Ear infection and migraine
Not only do migraines interfere with the vestibular apparatus causing vertigo and dizziness, but ear infection also tends to interfere with nerves in the face and head regions, causing migraine. Migraine is associated with symptoms including unilateral headache, flashes of light, difficulty seeing, and hearing, etc.
In case of any sort of discharge through the ear or pain that does not go away, you should consult your otorhinolaryngologist and get a complete ear examination done. The headache associated with an ear infection might go away with painkillers but would reoccur if the infection persists.
- Administration of pneumococcal and influenza vaccines can help prevent the causes of ear infections
- Avoid passive smoking, especially in children
- Dry your ear canal after swimming or showering
- Avoid your child’s contact with one who is unwell with infections that can be caught and may lead to an infection of the middle ear, causing earache and headaches.
- Mild-potency painkillers, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, are recommended
- Antibiotics are recommended if the ear infection persists
- Over-the-counter cough and cold drugs are administered on the advice of the doctor.
With antibiotics and proper medications, ear infections are treated effectively. However, if left untreated, it may lead to complications like hearing loss, facial paralysis, meningitis, mastoiditis, and brain abscess. Bacterial or fungal invasion into the brain tissue, head injury, or spread of infection, either through the bloodstream or some other area in the skull, leads to the formation of an abscess in the brain, causing a severe headache.
- Increased water intake to assist in the rapid removal of infectious flora from the body
- A nebulizer may relieve symptoms of cold and flu
- Elevated sleeping posture may help drain sinuses fast and may alleviate a headache
- Cold or warm compresses on the affected ear are significant
- Neck rotatory exercises may help to reduce pressure and headache
- Having a chicken soup or warm broth.
When to consult a doctor?
Mild headaches associated with an ear infection usually fade away on their own. However, if they do not, see your doctor. Breastfed children and pregnant females should consult a doctor before taking medications.
Can clogged ears cause headaches?
Clogged ears, either due to pus accumulation or buildup of ear wax, may trigger a headache and other associated symptoms.
What does an ear infection headache feel like?
Ear infection headache is characterized by a dull, aching pain in the head, face, and jaw associated with symptoms like flu, cold, runny nose, dizziness, lack of equilibrium, nausea, etc.
Why is my earache giving me a headache?
The spread of infection from the ear cavity into the sinuses, meninges, mastoid, or infectious otitis media often results in a headache.