Burning Ears: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, & Treatments

The human ear consists of three parts, inner, middle, and the outer ear. When people say their ear is literally burning, it often indicates an issue of the outer ear or pinna. In case of ear burns or burning ears or hot ears, both the ear canal and the pinna are taken into account. At times the ear drum is also taken into consideration. While this kind of burning sensation can be traced back to the middle ear, it is typically felt deeper and most likely signals inner ear problems.

earburns

Causes

  1. Blockage of earwax: The wax in the ears can solidify and can clog the ear canals leading to itching, aching, irritation, etc.
  2. Infection in the ear canal: An infection in the ear canal causes drainage, pain, itching, partial loss of hearing, etc.
  3. Foreign body: A foreign body in the ear can lead to drainage, pain, reddening, and even loss of hearing in severe cases.
  4. Infection in the middle ear or otitis externa with effusion: This type of infection causes stress in eardrums which in turn leads to discomfort and, at times, auditory loss.
  5. Sinusitis (chronic): Severe cases of sinusitis or infected sinus can cause a runny or stuffy, sore throat, toothache, fever, etc.
  6. Swimmer’s ear or otitis externa: When the outer ear and the ear canal catch an infection, it causes pain and reddening.
  7. Auricular hematoma: The outer ear becomes inflamed and painful.
  8. Rupture of the eardrum: A tear or hole in the tympanic membrane cause a temporary loss in hearing or discharge.
  9. Hyperacusis: An uncommon medical condition when ordinary sounds trigger irritation or pain in the ears.
  10. Allergies: Polluted air, certain chemicals, specific foods can trigger allergic response which causes inflammation and burning sensation in the ears. Some of the typical allergens are artificial jewellery, oak, soaps, water, chlorine, sweat, plants, hair dyes, certain metal ear rings, earphones, spectacles, cosmetics, seafood, peanuts, shellfish, and chemical ingredients present in items made from plastic or rubber.
  11. Micro-organisms and others: Infections caused by fungi, bacteria (for instance, pseudomonas) or virus can cause pain and burn in the ears. Respiratory infections like Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV can cause burning sensation in the ears, earache, discharge, throat soreness, etc. Ringworm (in scalp), herpes, yeast infection, chicken pox can too trigger this condition.
  12. Skin disease: Skin-related diseases like psoriasis and eczema or atopic dermatitis can cause burning sensation and severe itching in the ears. It can happen from sunburn also. Irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis or Seborrheic dermatitis can also cause this issue in kids. Anaphylaxis (a fatal allergic reaction) and urticarial or hives (coupled with angioedema) are also among the other reasons.
  13. Depression: Mental stress and acoustic phobia is also a possible cause.
  14. Heat and cold: Extreme high and low temperatures can cause this sensation.
  15. Medicinal adverse effects: Side-effects of prescribed drugs can cause burning sensation.
  16. Nerve or muscle injuries: Damage to the bones or muscles inside or around the ears as well as injured nerves along with chemical injuries, insect bites, the act of severe scratching or pulling the ears, ear piercings, accidental injuries from cleaning with cotton buds can cause ear burns. If the bone behind one’s ear is swollen and feels soft and painful, then it could be an infection in the mastoid bone or mastoditis or an infected lymph node.
  17. Variation in hormone level: Natural (menopause) and other (chemotherapy)  hormonal changes can cause hotness in the ears.
  18. Erythermalgia: Also known as erythromelalgia or EM, this uncommon medical condition cause reddening and burning pain in the ears. In rare instances, it happens only in ears and face. EM is usually triggered by the warm environment or light exercise. The degree of pain is very severe and interferes with a person’s daily activities. In extremely rare occasions, this happens due to some specific trigger like oranges.
  19.  Red ear syndrome or RES: It is a rare medical condition causing a burning sensation in the ears. This condition is often triggered by a person’s daily activities such as exertion, neck movements, touch, stress, brushing or washing hair. It can occur in one or both ears, and at times, coupled with a migraine.

Symptoms

When patients suffer from this medical condition, the color of their ears becomes red and the organ feels painful when touched. It could happen to one or both the ears. Many people have a false notion that blood pressure causes this. Though an extremely elevated BP may trigger hot flushes in ears and face, it does not particularly contribute to the burning ears problem. Some possible symptoms are:

  • Itching in the ear
  • Discharge or drainage from the ear
  • Tenderness or pain
  • Flaked or crusted skin
  • Warmth, swelling, or reddening
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Fever and shiver
  • Perspiration
  • Soreness in the throat
  • Stiffness in joint and pain
  • High fever (more than hundred and one degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Difficulty in breathing or respiratory problem
  • Strong headache
  • Intense pain
  • Softness or tingling in one’s ears, especially just above the bone

Complications

  • Meningitis
  • Mastoiditis (when the brain’s protective layer in inflamed)
  • Difficulty in communication
  • Cholesteatoma (cyst or tumor forming in the mastoid bone area or in the middle ear)
  • Frequently occurring ear infection

Treatment

  • A warm compress or steam inhalation (in case of the common cold)
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, anti-fungal medicines, Oral or topical corticosteroids
  • Ice and soaking, however, this therapy is not suitable for erythermalgia
  • Ice packs, hydrocortisone cream, or aloe vera gel for sunburns
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or prescription drugs like (Neurontin) gabapentin or propranolol for red ear syndrome
  • Scheduled drugs like (Neurontin) gabapentin or pregabalin for erythermalgia

Prevention

  • Using ear muffs or a cap for protecting the ears
  • Dressing in layers and eliminating alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine from the diet in case of hormonal changes
  • Using a sunscreen (needs to be applied in the outer ear) or a hat to prevent sunburns, and keeping in mind that it can occur in cold weather also, as the ice or snow too reflect the sunlight
  • Using ear plugs when bathing or swimming
  • Reducing ear contact to a bare minimum
  • Stop using ear jewelry and piercings in future
  • Minimizing contact with harmful hair products like sprays and dyes
  • Identifying and eliminating trigger (allergy-causing) foods from the daily menu

When to visit the healthcare service?

If the aforementioned symptoms do not subside or go away on its own or by over the counter medicines, then one should get in touch with a qualified doctor as soon as possible.

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