ZocdocAnswersIs an ear ache the same as an ear infection?

Question

Is an ear ache the same as an ear infection?

What's the difference between the two?

Answer

Ear ache is a general term that refers to pain that is felt in the ear...it doesn't necessarily denote the origin of the pain. Ear pain is typically the result of swelling or inflammation within the ear, whether it be the middle or external ear. This is usually the result of an infection (but doesn't have to be). An infection of the external auditory canal, or otitis externa, can cause fairly profound swelling and a significant amount of pain. In fact one of the physical exam signs that doctors use to diagnose otitis externa is gently tugging on the lobule of the ear which elicits significant pain due to the inflammation. This is just to illustrate that ear pain should raise the suspicion of a physician that there may be an ear infection (especially in the pediatric patient), but it does not necessarily mean that there is an ear infection. I would recommend that anyone with an ear ache (child or adult) should get a thorough exam by a physician. This can be done by your primary care physician, or by an otolaryngologist (ENT aka ears nose throat) physician. I hope this helps.

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