Ear burning sensations can be perceived as the ear feeling very hot as if it were near a heat source. This sensation is often a sign from your body telling you that something is wrong and you should pay attention to the pain in your ear. The sensation of burning in, on, or around the ear may cause it to feel tender to the touch, as the most probable cause of the pain is inflammation, a normal bodily process that is possibly due to a current bacterial or viral infection.
The sensation of a burning ear is most likely due to the otitis media with effusion. This is when the eustachian tube of the middle ear—the connection between the ear to your throat—becomes blocked with fluid and infected. This tube typically allows for the drainage of fluid from the middle ear, and if this flow is impeded, the inflammatory process will inhibit flow, leading to pain and swelling.
Burning ear sensation: Sign and symptoms
A burning sensation in the ear may not be the only presenting sign of this condition. Depending on the underlying cause, it may have additional symptoms. The following are the usual symptoms of a localized case of an ear burning sensation:
- Pain or tenderness
- Itchy ears
- Drainage or discharge from the ear
- Redness, warmth, or swelling
- Crusting or flaking skin
Other possible symptoms that may occur in cases of ear burning are:
- Sore throat
- Joint stiffness and pain
- Fever and chills
- Runny nose
Serious symptoms that may accompany an ear burning sensation and should prompt the attention of a medical professional are:
- Severe pain
- Throbbing or tenderness behind the ear, especially over the bone
- Severe headache
- High fever (greater than 101F)
- Respiratory or breathing problems
What causes an ear burning sensation?
The sensation of burning pain of the ear may be caused by a multitude of things. Some of its causes are obvious upon inspection of the ear, but others may not be so clear. It is important to seek the advice of your doctor if you’re unsure of what’s causing the pain. The following are potential causes of a burning ear sensation:
Injury: A common cause of ear pain that may present as a burning sensation. It can be caused mechanically by a direct blow to the ear, pulling on the pinna, or even a sharp force trauma like an ear piercing. Minimal trauma to the sensitive parts of the ear may also result in a burning sensation, such as injury from a cotton swab or from an insect bite. Chemical injury may also be a cause.
Infections: Very common in children, they may affect the outer or middle ear. Occasionally, the inner ear may be affected. Burning ear sensations are typically caused by an infection of the outer ear. An outer ear infection is called otitis externa (swimmer’s ear), while a middle ear infection is called otitis media. These infections are most likely caused be invading bacteria but may be also due to fungi, viruses, and even ringworm.
Skin conditions: Disorders that cause acute skin irritation to the ear can lead to a burning sensation. These may include atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, and contact dermatitis. These conditions increase the inflammatory processes of the body and could localize in the ear.
Allergies: Systemic allergic reactions can manifest with swelling and red burning ears. Urticaria (hives) is also a common occurrence alongside allergic reactions.
Sunburn: Extended periods of time in direct sun exposure can lead to skin damage due to UV light.
Psychological: During times of stress or anger, the blood vessels to the ear may dilate increasing blood flow and heat.
Complications of an ear burning sensation
The cause of an ear burning sensation is typically not serious, but if the symptoms last for a long time, it’s important to ensure that it’s not an infection. Once a doctor has prescribed a treatment regimen, it is imperative that you follow it exactly as prescribed to reduce the potential for any complication, such as the following:
- Recurring ear infection
- Meningitis (inflammation of the protective layer of the brain)
- Mastoiditis (inflammation of the bone behind the ear
- Cholesteatoma (tumor or cyst most commonly found in the middle ear and area of the mastoid bone)
- Communication difficulties
Burning sensation in the ears: Diagnosis and treatment
To determine the cause for your ear burning, your doctor will perform a brief physical examination as well as look directly into the ear itself. They will also take a history of the time preceding your case of ear pain to determine the most likely cause. Depending on the seriousness of your case, your doctor will either refer you to get additional imaging tests, prescribe antibiotic medication for a suspected infection, or both.
You may also be prescribed medication for symptom relief, including:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce inflammation
- Corticosteroids, which are useful for cases of severe inflammation and allergies
How to get rid of ear burning
The following are treatments one can do on their own with commonly found items around the house:
Warm compress: Can provide immediate pain relief to the affected area.
Roasted salt: In a pan, roast a modest amount of salt, then place in a cloth and compress on the ear. Make sure the temperature is bearable.
Basil leaves: Crush four to five basil leaves and mix with a carrier oil like almond, olive, or jojoba oil. Next, apply this mix to the affected area, wiping it off after pain relief is felt.
Garlic: Due to its antimicrobial properties and its ability to provide quick relief from ear pain, rubbing fresh garlic on the affected area can be beneficial.
Onion: Cutting it into pieces and heating it to extract all the juices than applying to your ear via a compress may relieve your pain.
Olive oil and tea tree oil: A combination of these two oils can be a great reliever of burning and pain sensation.