Ear Infection Uncommon in Adults
Even if you got painful ear infections often as a child, you are unlikely to get them as an adult. An ear infection typically occurs when an infection elsewhere, such as a cold or flu, spreads to the middle ear. High numbers of bacteria and/or viruses clog the narrow passage. The clogging gets worse as your immune response causes swelling and the production of fluid in the ear. In children, the ear passage is narrow and easily clogged.
In adults, the ear passage is wider and less likely to get clogged. Plus, our immune response changes as we get older. Generally, this means we don’t get as much swelling.
Why TMJ Could Be Causing Your Ear Pain
A few common causes of ear pain aside from trauma include ear infections, inflammation of the ear canal, and blockage of the ear canal. These complications call for the attention of a physician for treatment. Physicians may also check your parotid gland, a salivary gland just in front of the ear, which may produce stones that put pressure on the ear canal. If an ear, nose, and throat specialist has ruled out the above causes of your ear pain, however, your trouble could be caused by TMJ.
The three bones that make up the inner ear are housed inside the temporal bone, which our jaw presses against. TMJ puts excess pressure on the temporal bone, leading to increased pressure within the ear. That pressure causes ear pain.
Another reason that TMJ can cause ear pain is because it puts pressure on the trigeminal nerve. This nerve controls most of the movement of the ear. Poor alignment of the jaw can cause spasms along the trigeminal nerve, leading to ear pain.
Ear pain may be accompanied by tinnitus, which is roaring or ringing in the ears that can have many causes (and frequently has no known cause). In the case of TMJ disorder, tinnitus is often caused by the pressure on the trigeminal nerve which can create tension on inner ear muscles.
How to Tell an Ear Infection from TMJ
If both an ear infection and TMJ could be causing your symptoms, how do you tell the difference? It’s likely you have an ear infection if you: