Headache behind the Ear: 8 Possible Causes

A headache behind the ear usually originates from structures in that area of the head such as TMJ, Ear canal, etc. The Headaches that exclusively occur behind the ears are unusual, and their causes can range from a simple dental problem to a very complicated infection in the Mastoid bone. Some of the possible causes are mentioned below.

  1. Occipital Neuralgia
  2. Mastoiditis
  3. Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Disorder
  4. Dental Problems
  5. Lymph Node Inflammation Behind the Ear
  6. Wax buildup
  7. Swimmer’s Ear (Acute otitis externa)
  8. Middle ear infection (Otitis media)

1- Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital Neuralgia is a condition that involves inflammation of occipital nerves, the nerves that run through the scalp; there could be a possible injury. This results in an electric-shock like throbbing and shooting headaches that cause pain in the back of the head and neck. The pain can sometimes radiate as far as the forehead and behind the eyes.


  • Burning and throbbing pain like a migraine
  • Tenderness at the scalp.
  • Photophobia
  • Nausea
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Pain in half of the head
  • The character of the pain is intense, zapping, and piercing and is mostly felt on the affected side.


  • A pinched nerve
  • Trauma or injury
  • Bad posture
  • A disc hernia
  • Inflammation from Arteritis
  • A viral infection like herpes simplex



  • Muscle relaxants
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Injecting steroids
  • Permanently eliminating the occipital nerve


  • Decompression of the greater occipital nerve

Home Remedies

  • Applying heat to the location of pain
  • Hot massages
  • Physiotherapy

2- Mastoiditis

It is a rare but serious infection of the mastoid bone, which lies directly behind the ear. It usually occurs when an untreated ear infection spreads to the Mastoid and the patient commonly complains of severe Headache behind the Ear. This infection is more common in children in comparison to adults and almost always responds to treatment without any complications. However, this is a life-threatening condition if left untreated.


  • Pain and Tenderness behind the ear
  • Swelling and Redness
  • Ear Discharge
  • Heat radiating from behind the ears
  • Temporary/Permanent hearing loss on the affected side


  • An untreated middle ear infection-Otitis Media
  • Cholesteatoma


  • Antibiotics, through IV if the infection is severe enough
  • Surgical Procedures: Myringotomy and Mastoidectomy

3- Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Disorder

Temporomandibular joint disorder causes Headache in every 1 in 10 people with temporomandibular joint disorder. Since the Headache is related to the joint, so it is mostly felt on one side where the TMJ is affected


  • Jaw pain and sounds upon movement
  • Earache
  • Popping sounds in the ear
  • Jaw stiffness
  • Pain in the temples
  • Lock jaw


There are no specific causes for Headache but some common assumptions are as follows:

  • Constant grinding of teeth may cause a headache.
  • The facial muscles or jaw muscles may cause a headache as they become tired out of supporting and stabilizing the jaw in its abnormal position.
  • The constant strain on muscles in the face may cause a Headache.
Headache behind the Ear


  • Avoid foods that require a lot of chewing
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): help reduce the inflammation.
  • Muscle relaxants can also be given for a few days to reduce muscle spasms.

4- Dental Problems

Dental problems can lead to reffered pain behind the ear and are as follows:

  • Abscess
  • Impacted Teeth
  • Jaw joint dysfunction
  • Jaw clenching
  • Teeth grinding

Each of these has different types of symptoms and are treated accordingly after consultation with health care professionals.

5- Lymph Node Inflammation behind the Ear

Pain due to inflamed Lymph nodes behind the ears is often mistaken as a Headache.


  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Pain behind the ears
  • Swollen nodes


During an infection, the nodes become swollen behind the ears as the immune system activates to get rid of the responsible agents from the body.


  • An antibiotic to treat the infection
  • Warm compresses for pain relief
  • Drink plenty of fluids

6- Wax Buildup

Excessive accumulation of wax in the ear is very uncomfortable, and the pain often extends behind the ear.


  • Uncomfortable feeling in ears
  • Headache behind ears
  • Tinnitus
  • Itching in the ear canal
  • Feeling of Fullness
  • Temporary deafness


Wax accumulation can be due to several causes, but Headache is just an uncomfortable feeling felt by the patient.


  • Cleaning of Ear
  • Pain killer for Headache Relief

7- Swimmer’s Ear (Acute otitis externa)

Often swimming leads to an ear infection called Acute Otitis Externa that worsens and results in several severe symptoms, one of them being Headache behind the Ears.


  • Fever
  • Decreased Hearing
  • Swollen Lymph nodes
  • Acute Otitis Externa
  • Redness inside the Ear
  • Ear discharge


Acute Otitis Externa is an infection caused by bacteria. The bacteria fight against natural defense such as wax and cause an infection in the outer ear. Excess humidity and moisture in the ear after swimming creates a favorable environment for the growth of bacteria.


  • An Antral wash.
  • An Acidic wash to restore the normal anti-bacterial environment in the ear.
  • A steroid for severe pain.

8- Middle Ear Infection (Otitis media)

Cold or Flu is several times accompanied by Otitis Media that can cause Headache behind Ear.


  • Ear pain upon lying down
  • Fever
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Headache behind Ear
  • Trouble Hearing


A throat infection often travels to the Middle ear via Eustachian Tubes causing infection behind the ear drum. The Eustachian tubes often swell up and cause pain, that is often felt in the head in form of a Headache.


  • Some time is given for the swelling to settle
  • Pain medications are taken for Headache
  • Anesthetic drops are also given for severe pain


Proper evaluation of symptoms is required to reach the exact diagnosis. If Ear infections co-exist, an evaluation by the ENT specialist is required.

When to Consult the Doctor?

If the headache persists for more than three days and even after treating the cause, you should book an appointment. If the headache is accompanied by fever and other serious symptoms, you should book an appointment with the doctor as soon as possible.


Where exactly is the pain felt?

Pain is exactly felt in the head just behind the ear.

What are the most common causes of headache behind ear?

Most common causes include TMJ Disorders, Mastoiditis and Otitis media.

Is it a life threatening condition?

No, most of the times it is treatable and cures easily with proper precautions and treatment. But some times if left untreated such as in Mastoiditis this can be Life threatening.