TEMPORAL MANDIBULAR JOINT DYSFUNCTION
WHEN EAR PAIN ISN’T FROM THE EAR
Patients are often surprised to learn that not all ear pain comes from an ear problem. One very commonly seen problem causing ear pain when the ear is not the source is called Temporal Mandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ). This joint space is right next to the external auditory canal, so pain from TMJ essentially feels the same as an ear infection.
See the diagram below to understand how close the temporal bone is to the mandible and surrounding muscles, fat, and soft tissue.
In order to confirm that the pain is from TMJ or other origin and not the ear, patients should have their ear examined by an ENT specialist. Once have both examined the ear and performed standard tympanogram (middle ear pressure test) to confirm they are normal, other causes can then be considered.
REFERRED EAR PAIN
Another common cause of ear pain when there is no obvious problem with the ear is known as referred ear pain (otalgia). Referred ear pain implies that the source of the pain originates from an area distant from the ear. Because of “cross talk” between nerves in the area, referred ear pain can start from anywhere in the mouth, throat, or anterior neck.
A thorough examination is often indicated to look for these potential causes of the symptom when the ear examination / tympanogram are normal.