Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Causes of Shooting Pain in Ear

Ear is an important body part and is placed in close approximation with other structures around the head, face and the neck. Sharp shooting ear pain can be felt in many conditions related to the ear, nose, throat and head.

Here are some of the common causes of shooting pain in the ears.

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Ear Conditions that can Cause Shooting Pain in Ear

Causes of Shooting Pain in Ear

  • Earwax – When trying to prevent entry of dust and germs in the ears, excess accumulation of wax or cerumen in the ears can occur. The excess wax build up can get dried and blocked, causing a sensation of fullness in the ears. This usually results in shooting pain in the ears.
  • Ear Barotrauma – Pressure changes in the ear, commonly occurring at higher altitudes can cause sudden shooting pain in the ears. Along with general discomfort, it causes stuffiness or fullness in the ears and reduced hearing. Symptoms may be better by swallowing, yawning and performing certain exercises.
  • Outer Ear Infection – Infection of the outer ear (otitis externa) or swimmer's ear is caused when moisture in the ear canal leads to bacterial or fungal infection. Shooting pain in the ear is worse on pulling the ears outwards.
  • Middle Ear Infection – It is common in those suffering from recurrent cold and young children. Sharp shooting ear pain may worsen in the night with a pulling sensation and may also affect hearing in some cases.
  • Mastoiditis – Untreated middle ear infection can lead to inflammation of the mastoid process of the ear and cause shooting ear pain.
  • Eardrum Rupture – The eardrum or the tympanic membrane plays an important role in the hearing process. Certain sports like scuba diving, high altitude activities or insertion of objects in the ears can cause the eardrum to rupture and result in sharp shooting ear pain. It may be accompanied by oozing of discharge from the ear and affect hearing as well.
  • Shooting Pain in Ear due to Foreign Body Impaction – Sometimes, small objects can get impacted in the ear canal, commonly when children play with small toys, nuts, marbles, etc. It causes severe shooting ear pain and can also increase the risk of infection if not detected in time.
  • Cholesteatoma – A cyst in the skin in the middle ear can exert pressure on the ear drum and can also damage the bone to cause infection. If the infection travels to other nearby areas, it can cause complications like abscess in the brain, meningitis or even affect the nerves.
  • Meniere's Disease – A condition affecting the inner ear, possibly due to fluid changes, can cause ear pain along with ringing sound, vertigo and hearing difficulties.

These conditions need to be evaluated with clinical examination and necessary investigations. Appropriate treatment would be decided based on the diagnosis.

Nose and Throat Conditions that Cause Shooting Pain in Ear

Some respiratory conditions affecting the nose and the throat may also result in shooting ear pain.

  • Allergies – Allergic conditions like allergic rhinitis, common cold and similar nasal conditions can cause shooting pain in the ears. It is associated with other symptoms of irritation like running nose, sneezing, etc.
  • Sinusitis – Infection of the sinuses can occur along with congestion of the nose. Pain is felt in the cheek bone, above the eyes and usually also radiates to the ears.
  • Sore throat – Irritation or inflammation of the throat due to coughing, allergy, infection or other causes can cause difficulty in swallowing and shooting pain the ears. It may be associated with swollen glands in the neck, changes in voice quality and redness on examination.
  • Tonsillitis and Other Infections – Tonsils often get inflamed to protect the spread of infection but sometimes, may cause a problem, if they themselves get infected. It is more common in children and is generally accompanied by fever and painful swallowing.

Other Causes of Shooting Pain in Ear

Most of the times shooting pain in the ear is the result of a referred pain from another location around the ears. Some other causes of shooting ear pain may include

  • Jaw Pain – Temporomandibular joint disorders or injuries to the jaw joint can cause pain, in and around the ear. The ear pain may worsen with jaw movements, yawning, singing and yelling. The area around the ears and the jaw joint may be tender and painful to touch.
  • Teeth Grinding – A habit of grinding the teeth, called bruxism can eventually lead to pain the jaw joint and the ears.
  • Dental Causes of Shooting Pain in Ear– Dental causes like tooth decay, gum abscesses, tooth extraction, etc. too can cause pain in the ears.
  • Shooting Pain in Ear Caused due to Nerve Problems – Compression of nerves due to injuries, spinal disc problems, growth or other causes can cause severe, shooting ear pain.
  • Infections/Tumors – Infections and tumors of the structures in the surrounding areas like those affecting the throat, neck, thyroid gland, etc. can cause shooting pain in the ears.

These conditions, although not directly related to the ear, can cause sharp ear pain and can eventually affect the ears, if not treated in time. Hence, these conditions should be considered and relevant investigations and treatment plan should be implemented.

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Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: February 5, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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