Unusual Migraine Symptoms: Earaches, Ear Pain
Last updated: April 2023
Do your ears ever hurt or burn like you have an earache? Does the pain come and go, but never lasts very long? Have you had a doctor look at your ears and tell you there’s no sign of infection? Migraine could be the culprit.
It sounds bizarre, but that’s exactly what I discovered after years of earaches that puzzled my doctors. I’ve since spoken to other migraineurs with the same experience.
Ear pain before or during an attack
For some, the pain is short-lived and usually comes in the prodrome phase of a migraine. Others have it throughout the migraine. Sometimes it’s a deep ache or a shooting pain, other times it’s an itching sensation; sometimes it’s exactly where you would expect an earache to be, other times it feels deeper in the ear or further down the neck.
What causes ear pain with migraine?
Despite the anecdotal evidence, there’s not much research on the topic, which means that a reason for the ear pain is hard to come by. The doctors and dentists I’ve asked about this have given me two explanations.
Trigeminal nerve activation is the most likely one. That’s the nerve that starts near the ear and has branches throughout the face and it is thought to be a key player in migraine pathophysiology. Another possible reason is irritation at the temporomandibular joint, which might flare up during a migraine due to teeth clenching or other factors.
How can you treat the pain?
The next question is how to treat the earaches. One small study by an ENT found that 92 percent of 26 patients in his practice who unexplained ear pain found relief from migraine treatment.1 That’s great if you have effective migraine abortives or preventives. If not, applying heat or an ice pack (whichever is more comfortable for you) to the location of the pain may provide some relief.
The good news is that your ears are probably fine (though you should get checked by a doctor to be sure). The bad news is that the treatment is the same thing you’re probably already searching for – helpful migraine medications (either abortives or preventives), other preventive treatments, and ways to avoid or minimize triggers.
Know the source
Knowing the source of the ear pain has gone a long way toward relieving my anxiety about it. Sometimes it comes early enough in the migraine that it alerts me to take a triptan when it is most likely to be effective, which halts the migraine and the ear pain.
Do you have unusual ear pain, too? Have you noticed any connection to your migraine attacks? How do you soothe the pain?
Which are you most sensitive to?