Ear pain is something that many of us may have experienced as children. It can present in adults too with a number of different causes. Often ear pain is uncomfortable and can make it difficult to carry on with life while the problem persists. That’s why it’s so important to get the right diagnosis for ear pain and to do this as soon as possible.
Taking a history
The first step in diagnosing ear pain is to find out how the patient got to this point. The specialist will begin by asking questions about the pain itself, most importantly where this is located and whether it has moved during the time in which it has been experienced. The type of pain may have an influence on the eventual diagnosis – for example, continuous pain that gets progressively worse could be a sign of an infection. There are a number of other factors that will be taken into account at this stage when it comes to diagnosing ear pain. These include:
- Whether hearing has been affected
- Other symptoms, such as vertigo
- Any previous medical issues and whether this is a repeat episode
- Information about patient smoking and drinking habits
- Any pain or problems when chewing
- Recent health issues such as sinusitis
- Dental procedures that have taken place recently and may be having an impact
Carrying out an exam
The second stage in diagnosing ear pain is for the specialist to physically examine the patient. A physical exam will usually start with the area of the ear where the most pain is being experienced. Looking inside the ear and examining the outside can help to provide clues about what the source of the ear pain might be. An ENT specialist will also examine other areas around the source of pain. For example, the teeth and jaw, neck and head, as well as other areas of the face. In the process of diagnosis it will be necessary to eliminate a range of causes, from infection through to the after effects of traumatic injury in order to identify what the true cause of the problem really is.
After a physical exam
It may be that a physical exam helps to establish what is causing the ear pain and this can be dealt with there and then. However, sometimes this is not the case and when that happens some further tests may be required. It may also be necessary to trigger a referral if the pain is not being directly caused in the ears – for example, where the source of the pain looks like it is in the teeth then a dental referral will be the most obvious, logical next step.
For patients suffering from ear pain, especially if they are children, this condition can be very uncomfortable. Going through the process of diagnosis, from taking a history to referrals or further tests, allows the source of the pain to be identified so that this can be treated as soon as possible.