The other day a new patient visited our office for vertigo. He was on vacation when he woke up to the world spinning around him. He went to the emergency room in Florida who told him it was benign paroxysmal vertigo meaning that it was not a life-threatening problem and it would likely self resolve. He was also experiencing left-sided ear pain and his head was leaning notably to the right.
Upon evaluation, he had a history of chronic lower back problems. During the evaluation, it was determined that his right side was very stiff with tight fascia into the right side of his neck pulling his neck to the right side. Further history revealed his neck had been this way for a while.
The initial treatment improved his neck mobility and markedly reduced vertigo which was caused by tightness on his right side affecting his neck. This is the most common cause for vertigo seen in chiropractic offices which is commonly seen medically as an inner ear problem.
Over the weekend he visited an ear, nose, and throat specialist to evaluate his ear and vertigo problem and the doctor diagnosed an inner ear infection. Inner ear infections are often seen in small children due to their inner ear anatomy while adults usually have infections in the ear canal itself from water among other causes.
Upon looking in his ear, other than some minor redness at the eardrum, a common finding, there was no evidence of an ear infection but there was evidence of tightness in his jaw and of joint dysfunction in the base of the skull and in his first cervical vertebrae. Chiropractic adjustment to these joints relieved the ear pain.
What causes ear pain in adults?
If you look on Google, they list the most common WebMD reasons for ear pain to be infection and clogging of the eustachian tubes with treatment that includes antibiotics.
They also include problems with the jaw and dental involvement which are both likely more common than an ear infection.
What are your care options?
Most people would visit their primary doctor first who would look in your ears. More often than not you will be diagnosed with an ear infection and given a treatment that includes antibiotics. Your mileage may vary with this approach which ignores the jaw, musculoskeletal system, and other common causes. Many walk-in clinics that are unfamiliar with you will likely treat this as an ear infection and you are likely to get a script for medication. What if the problem is dental or mechanical?
They would look at and evaluate your teeth, your bite, and treat you dentally. An abscessed tooth can be a reason for ear pain and these will be intense and painful. Mechanical problems in the jaw can also cause clicking and pain with chewing. A dentist can be helpful with these types of complaints. Dentists will not look at your body or your body mechanics.
They will evaluate your ear, jaw and offer advice if an ear infection is involved. They are unlikely to evaluate the musculoskeletal system.
Chiropractors are holistic in their approach which is musculoskeletal based. In my 35+ years of experience, most people with ear pain either are having jaw dysfunction which can be dental or jaw dysfunction. Another common reason is that problems in the lower body that create tension into the neck and shoulders can affect jaw function and result in ear pain, headaches, vertigo, and even neck and shoulder pain. chiropractors will take a primary care approach to this, evaluate your ear as well to rule out infection, and consider the entire body and the spine, which can result in ear pain.
Still confused? Considering the many reasons for ear pain, a holistic primary care approach is the most efficient and cost-effective.
With all the options available, chiropractors will perform a full exam and a detailed history of not only your ear pain but all the possible causes. Ironically, most people don’t consider seeing a chiropractor for ear pain first. A chiropractor will perform a spinal adjustment and potentially may treat the jaw muscles which are often involved in eustachian tube issues. They will also refer you to another practitioner if the problem is not treatable by chiropractic methods. The good news is, most of the time, a chiropractor can help you with this and other problems as well. This is especially true if these symptoms also include vertigo and tinnitus.
While most people would not think of a chiropractor first for ear pain, a chiropractic visit may eliminate the need for other specialists, interventions such as antibiotics if the problem is mechanically based. Most of the time, ear pain is mechanical in adults.
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