Understanding Ear Infection Headache: Causes and Relief

07 Mar 2024, by

Dr. Anna Nersisyan

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Ear infection headache is a discomforting condition often resulting from an underlying ear infection. These headaches can arise from various types of ear infections, including acute otitis media, otitis media with effusion, and otitis externa, each affecting different parts of the ear and leading to pain that may radiate to the head. Factors like age, upper respiratory infections, and environmental exposures heighten the risk. Understanding the causes, recognizing symptoms, and knowing when to seek treatment are crucial for managing this condition effectively and preventing complications such as hearing loss or chronic pain.

ear infection headache

Causes of Ear Infection Headaches

Bacterial Infections

One of the primary culprits behind ear infections that lead to headaches is bacterial infections. When bacteria invade the ear, they can cause inflammation and buildup of fluid, leading to pressure that manifests as a headache. This pain is not only confined to the ear but can also radiate to the head, causing discomfort that ranges from mild to severe. The ear's anatomy, especially in children, makes it more susceptible to bacterial infections due to the shorter and more horizontal Eustachian tubes which can easily get blocked.

Viral Infections

Similarly, viral infections are also a significant cause of ear infections, contributing to the development of headaches. Viruses can inflame the ear's structures, leading to fluid accumulation and, subsequently, pressure pain that affects the head. Common colds, flu, and respiratory infections can easily spread to the ear, exacerbating the problem and leading to the dreaded ear infection headache.

Types of Ear Infections

Ear infections, leading to headaches, can be classified into different types based on the part of the ear affected. Understanding these types is crucial in identifying the symptoms and seeking the right treatment.

Acute Otitis Media (AOM)

This type occurs when parts of the middle ear get infected and swollen, trapping fluid behind the eardrum. It often results in pain, fever, and a headache from the pressure buildup.

Otitis Media with Effusion (OME)

After an acute infection has cleared, fluid might still remain in the middle ear, leading to a feeling of fullness in the ear and a dull headache, even if there's no active infection.

Otitis Externa (Swimmer's Ear)

This infection affects the outer ear canal, often after water gets trapped in the ear, leading to bacterial growth. It can cause itching, redness, and a headache due to the external ear's inflammation.

Risk Factors for Ear Infection Headaches

Several factors can increase the likelihood of developing an ear infection that leads to headaches. Recognizing these risk factors is the first step in prevention and ensuring early treatment to mitigate the discomfort associated with ear infection headaches.

  • Age: Children are more prone to ear infections due to the size and shape of their Eustachian tubes. In fact, JAMA Pediatrics states that about 50% of all children will have at least one ear infection by the time they reach their second birthday. These infections can lead to significant discomfort, including headaches, due to the pressure buildup from fluid accumulation.
  • Upper Respiratory Infections: Conditions like colds, flu, and allergies can cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and Eustachian tubes, increasing the risk of an ear infection and subsequent headache.
  • Poor Hygiene: Not maintaining proper hygiene, especially in the ear area, can lead to infections. Regular, careful cleaning can help prevent the buildup of bacteria and viruses that cause infections.
  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to tobacco smoke, high pollution levels, and even frequent swimming without proper ear protection can increase the risk of ear infections and headaches.


Understanding these causes, types, and risk factors is essential in managing and preventing the discomfort caused by ear infection headaches. By acknowledging the connections between ear infections and headaches and recognizing the signs early, individuals can seek timely medical advice and treatment, alleviating the painful symptoms and preventing further complications.

Complications of Untreated Ear Infections

Neglecting ear infections can lead to several complications, affecting not only the ear but also potentially leading to more serious health issues. Recognizing these risks is crucial for seeking prompt treatment and avoiding long-term consequences.

  • Persistent Pain: Without treatment, the pain from an ear infection can persist or worsen, leading to a headache from ear infection that disrupts daily activities and quality of life.
  • Hearing Loss: Chronic ear infections, or a severe single infection, can damage the structures of the ear, leading to temporary or even permanent hearing loss.
  • Spread of Infection: An untreated ear infection can spread to nearby tissues, including the bones (mastoiditis) or the brain (meningitis), posing serious health risks.
  • Tympanic Membrane Perforation: Repeated ear infections can weaken the eardrum to the point where it might rupture, causing hearing loss and making the ear more susceptible to future infections.

Treatment for Ear Infection Headaches

Treating ear infections promptly can alleviate headaches and prevent further complications. Here are some effective treatment strategies:

Pain Management

Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage the discomfort associated with ear infections and the headaches they cause. Warm compresses applied to the affected ear can also relieve pain.

Decongestants and Nasal Sprays

These can help reduce nasal congestion and ease the pressure in the middle ear, potentially alleviating the headache caused by the ear infection.


If the ear infection is bacterial, healthcare providers may prescribe antibiotics. It’s crucial to complete the full course, even if symptoms improve, to ensure the infection is fully cleared.

Ear Drops

Prescription ear drops can help relieve pain and inflammation, especially in cases of outer ear infections (otitis externa).


For those experiencing symptoms or unsure about their condition, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional. Additionally, our Symptom Checker can help you understand your symptoms better and guide you on when to seek medical advice.

Prevention of Ear Infection Headaches

Preventing ear infections is key to avoiding the headaches and other complications they can cause. Here are some practical tips:

  • Practice Good Ear Hygiene: Keep the ears clean and dry. Avoid inserting objects into the ear canal that can damage the skin and lead to infections.
  • Avoid Smoke Exposure: Tobacco smoke can irritate the Eustachian tubes, increasing the risk of ear infections.
  • Manage Allergies: Allergies can lead to ear problems. Managing them effectively can reduce the risk of ear infections and headaches.
  • Vaccinations: Stay up to date with vaccinations, including the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine, which can help prevent infections that might lead to ear infections.


Incorporating these prevention strategies into your daily routine can significantly reduce the risk of ear infections and the headache from ear infection, leading to a healthier life with fewer interruptions due to ear-related discomfort. Remember, ear can infection cause headache, making it all the more important to take preventative steps seriously.

Key Takeaways

  • Ear infections can lead to headaches due to the pressure buildup from fluid accumulation in the middle ear.
  • Bacterial and viral infections are primary causes of ear infections that result in headaches.
  • There are different types of ear infections, each with specific symptoms and potential for causing headaches.
  • Children are at higher risk for ear infections, which can lead to complications like hearing loss and persistent pain if untreated.
  • Treatment options include pain management, decongestants, antibiotics, and ear drops, depending on the type and cause of the infection.
  • Preventive measures, such as practicing good ear hygiene, managing allergies, avoiding smoke exposure, and staying up to date with vaccinations, can reduce the risk of ear infections and associated headaches.
  • Utilizing resources like the Symptom Checker can help individuals better understand their symptoms and when to seek medical advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an ear infection headache?

An ear infection headache is a headache that occurs as a result of an ear infection, typically caused by pressure buildup from fluid accumulation in the middle ear. It can range from mild to severe and may accompany other symptoms like ear pain and fever.

Can ear infection cause headache?

Yes, an ear infection can cause a headache. The pressure and inflammation associated with an ear infection can lead to discomfort that extends beyond the ear, manifesting as a headache.

How does ear infection cause headache?

Ear infections cause headaches through the buildup of fluid and pressure in the middle ear. This pressure can lead to pain and discomfort, not only within the ear but also in the head, resulting in a headache.

Why do I get a headache from ear infection?

You get a headache from an ear infection due to the inflammation and pressure caused by the infection. This pressure affects the surrounding areas of the ear, including the head, leading to a headache. The pain can be exacerbated by chewing, swallowing, or lying down, which may increase the pressure in the middle ear.

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