There are so many causes of this type of pain, that diagnosing simple head pain behind ear may not be so easy. But there actually are some common causes and good treatments.
Recently, I’ve been experiencing sudden, sharp head pain behind my ear. It comes without warning, and makes me wince at best – it’s very painful! Any idea what may be going on?
Sometimes this type of pain may be sudden and temporary. Other times, it grows slowly and gets worse.
For a pain that’s getting worse, it’s entirely possible that there is an ear problem, such as an ear infection. Even though the problem may come from the ear, the pain may be perceived as being “behind the ear”.
An example common in children is mastoiditis, which may also cause redness of the ear or behind the ear.
For a pain that’s getting worse, always right around the ear, it may be wise to check with an ear, nose and throat specialist (an otolaryngologist, if you want to get technical).
A number of bones, muscles, and other structures right around the ear may cause problems. There may be a strained neck, or the degeneration of arthritis.
There are neurological headache conditions which may cause head pain behind the ear. Hemicrania continua is a one sided headache, which could localize around the ear (see pain locations in Hemicrania continua: a clinical study of 39 patients with diagnostic implications).
Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is a rare condition which may cause severe though temporary pain in and around the ear. This pain is often provoked by swallowing, coughing, or even talking. It last from a few seconds to a minute or two.
Primary stabbing headache is another possibility. Commonly known as ice-pick headache, it causes sharp, temporary pain even though there is no underlying disease of the nerves or structures nearby the pain location. The stabs of pain only last a few seconds.
If you’re experiencing head pain behind the ear, keep track of how often it happens, how long it lasts, how severe the pain is, and any other symptoms that you may be experiencing.
Do take this pain seriously. There are many possible causes, some more serious than others, but your doctor can help you narrow them down. First, she’ll probably look for organic and structural problems that could be causing the pain. Certain tests may help rule out infections as well.
Sometimes the diagnosis will be based on your symptoms alone, in the absence of evidence of other problems. Treatments will be based on this diagnosis.
It’s difficult to take medication for a headache that only lasts a few seconds. However, some conditions have responded well using indomethacin (a common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) as a preventative.
If you’re not finding answers, consider a neurologist and/or otolaryngologist, and possibly a physiotherapist if the problem seems to be structural. It can take time to find a proper diagnosis for head pain behind the ear, but there are good answers and good treatments for many related conditions.
- The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version) (pdf)
- Ear Infection
- The Headaches (3rd Edition)
- Glossopharyngeal neuralgia
- Ice Pick Headaches – The Basics
- Hemicrania Continua Facts
- The jab of an ice pick headache…