Sudden Stabbing Pain in Ear Common Causes and How to Treat

Sudden Stabbing Pain in Ear

Sudden stabbing pain in ear is a prevalent sensation, and most of them are not harmful. Although if the pain elongates, it can be a cause of concern. In medical terms, earache or ear pain is called otalgia.

Furthermore, if the pain is coming from inside the ear, it is called primary otalgia, whereas if the pain is from outside the ear, it is called secondary otalgia.

In this article, we have discussed the various reasons for sudden throbbing pain in the ear.

Common causes of sudden stabbing pain in ear

Check out the following reasons why you might have sudden stabbing pain in the ear:

#1 Earwax inside the ear

If there is a build-up of earwax or a small object is stuck in the ear, it can cause ear pain. Moreover, if you feel like there may be something in your ear, do not try to remove it yourself because you might push it inside and then damage your eardrum.

Furthermore, it is best to contact the pharmacist, and they will suggest you eardrops that soften the earwax so that it will fall out naturally.

However, if it does not work, your doctor will do ear irrigation to put some eardrops and then water to deep clean your ear.

If an object is stuck, you need to see a specialist who will remove it from your ear.

#2 Temporomandibular disorder (TMD)

TMD is a type of musculoskeletal condition where it mainly affects the joint that connects the skull and the jawbone. People who have TMD feel a sharp pain in their jaw, leading to their temples and ears.

There are some other symptoms of temporomandibular disorder includes:

  • It doesn’t feel easy to open your mouth
  • Jaw locking whenever you try to open to the mouth
  • There are popping, grinding, or clicking noises when you try to move your jaw

Also, TMD is not a serious issue, and it gets better after some time.

#3 Throat infections

You might feel stabbing pain ear when swallowing if you have a sore throat. Most of the time, it is due to quinsy or tonsillitis. Quinsy is when there is a blister on one side of the throat, making it difficult for you to swallow even if it is a liquid.

Furthermore, few types of tonsillitis will get better after few days without any medicine. However, if you have quinsy, you have to see the doctor as soon as possible for your treatment. If you have quinsy, then the sore throat will get worse quickly.

#4 Sinus infections

If you feel a stabbing pain in the ear and head, it is due to an infection in the sinus. Three common types of sinus infection include:

Sinusitis, inflammation on the paranasal sinus. Paranasal is responsible for producing nasal mucus.

Mastoiditis is an infection of the mastoid bone. This bone is present behind our ears.

Otitis is an inflammation and infection of the ear and is the most common type of infection.

Also, a sinus infection can be bacterial or viral.

#5 Glue ear or Otitis Media with Effusion (OME)

OME is a build-up of liquids deep in the ear, and it causes temporary hearing loss. It is painless most of the time, but you might feel a sudden stabbing pain in the ear if there is liquid pressure.

However, the glue ear clears up by itself, but it will take a minimum of 2 months. If it does not clear up then, you need to do a minor procedure. The doctor will place grommets (tiny tubes) inside the ear to help discharge the liquid.

#6 Otitis

One of the causes of sudden stabbing pain in the ear is due to otitis. The infection can happen on the outer or inner ear.

The infection in the inner ear will affect the Eustachian tube that connects the back of the upper throat and nasal cavity with the middle ear. Also, it is mainly caused due to virus infection and is common in kids.

Sudden Stabbing Pain in Ear

Moreover, when the infection is on the outer ear, it will affect the ear canal, which is a tube that connects the eardrum and outer ear.

The infection will often cause irritation and itching of the ear canal, mainly if water goes inside. This is common among adults.

Other than sharp pain, there are some other signs of ear infection such as:

  • Low energy
  • Discharge of fluid from the ear
  • Difficult to hear
  • Fever or flu
  • Irritation or itchiness around or inside the ear
  • The ear feels heavy or pressurized from inside

flu incubation period


A person might experience few other symptoms such as:

  • Vertigo
  • Difficult to hear
  • Paralysis of the facial nerve
  • Cannot walk properly

Tinnitus is where a person feels hearing noises coming inside of the ear.

If the situation is severe, a person can feel a sudden stabbing pain in the ear even when swallowing or yawning. This happens as these motions involve eustachian tubes, which change the ear pressure.


You can buy medicines without a prescription from any medical shop. Ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) are good painkillers that will give you temporary relief. However, if the cause of pain is due to an object inside, going to a doctor is a must.

Most of the treatment is not needed for an ear infection. However, if bacteria cause the infection, then the doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

Moreover, if the cause of pain is TMD, then the doctor will suggest few things such as:

  • Refer to a psychologist if the cause of TMD due to anxiety and stress
  • Might suggest visiting a dentist if the ear pain is due to teeth grinding or other teeth-related problem
  • Give you a stronger painkiller and antibiotics

Home remedies

The common home remedy is to buy pain relief medicines from pharmacies if the pain is moderate. Also, you can use a cool or warm compress against your ear as it helps to reduce the pain.

Some individuals use Q-tips to get rid of the earwax, but this might push the wax deeper inside the ear, which will cause a problem. If you think your ear pain is due to earwax, then you need to see a physician.


If the cause of pain is due to bacteria or viruses, then it isn’t easy to prevent it. However, here are few things that can help, such as:

  • While showering or bathing, prevent water from getting inside the ear
  • If you have a skin condition such as eczema, then you need to treat it
  • Avoid smoking
  • Use swimming caps and earplugs while swimming
  • Do not use Q-tips regularly

If a person wears hearing aids, then it might cause allergy due to the material of the device. In this case, you need to change it.

When do you need to see a doctor?

Most of the time, ear pain resolves quickly in few days. However, if it is severe pain and your ear is bleeding, the person needs medical care.

Also, if you experience any of these, then consult a physician:

  • Vomiting
  • Fever, flu, or chills
  • Sore throat
  • Frequent ear infection
  • Swelling on the ear
  • Difficult to hear often
  • Discharges of fluid from the ear
  • Earache or pain that persists more than 4 days
  • Nausea

Sharp ear pain COVID

Covid-19 and ear infections do have some common signs such as headache and fever. However, ear infections or earache is not a common sign of Covid 19.

Can the coronavirus cause earache?

Ear infections are mainly caused when fluid is collected behind the eardrum. Most of the time, someone has flu, fever, cold, or any respiratory tract infection.

However, when someone is covid19 positive, one of the signs is fever. So due to this, they might get ear pain. But the chances are extremely low.

Stabbing pain in ear NHS

NHS is the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. They have shared some of their knowledge on why there can be sudden stabbing pain in ear.

According to the NHS, ear pain is a common problem, mainly in kids. It might be worrying. However, it mostly causes minor infections, and it gets better within a week without any treatment.

Furthermore, the sudden stabbing pain in the ear can be dull, burning, or sharp, which might be constant or come and go. It can affect one or both of your ears.

When should someone contact GP?

NHS doctors stated that it is not necessary to contact the GP immediately. The local pharmacist can always give you an ear drop that will treat your ear pain. However, here are some reasons when you should contact your GP:

  • If there is something stuck inside the ear
  • Other symptoms include vomiting, hearing loss, sore throat, high fever, discharge from ears, or swelling on the ear
  • Earache does not improve within a week after applying an eardrop

Outer ear pain when touched

Most of the time, outer ear pain leads to swelling or redness of the ear. These are the common signs of earache. Also, most of the time, it is caused due to bacterial infections. Rarely can it be due to viruses, allergies, or fungi.

Furthermore, the outer ear is divided into two parts: the auricle (the visible part) and the outer ear canal. The ear canal leads from the eardrum to the auricle.

In medical terms, outer ear inflammation is called otitis externa, which is mainly caused due to infections.

Symptoms of outer ear pain

Outer ear pain or infection can be excruciating, mainly when you tug or touch that area. Itching and scratching are common as well.

Also, the skin of the ear canal will be swollen and red, and sometimes it sheds skin or discharges a liquid. Due to this, the ear becomes blocked, which will make it hard to hear correctly.

According to research, 1 out of 4 people feel so much pain that it affects their lives regularly. Also, 1 out of 6 people needs to stay home for few days because of the infection.

Causes of outer ear pain

Often, an ear infection is caused due to bacteria and sometimes yeast, but it is less common. Moreover, viral infections such as fever or some types of shingles (mainly zoster oticus) can lead to an ear infection.

There can also be an allergic reaction that might be caused due to a hair oil or shampoo.

Furthermore, it is also called “swimmer’s ear” as germs and bacteria can easily get inside the ear when swimming.

Additionally, minor outer ear injuries can cause pain, such as cleaning the ear with earbuds every day or regularly wearing earphones for a long period.

Prevention of outer ear pain

  1. Using a swimming cap that fits you well, so the water does not enter the ear while you are swimming. You can even use these caps while taking a bath or showering.
  2. If you are a swimmer and use earplugs, make sure it is soft and fits you properly.
  3. People with sensitive ear canal should not use earplugs to protect from water, noise or dust. Also, try to use fewer earphones. It is best to try headphones if you are phone to get an outer ear infection.
  4. Some people have problems with their earwax buildup. Hence it is best to get it cleaned up by your doctor, especially if you are going on a swimming vacation.
  5. When water gets inside the ear, tilt the head to the opposite side, and the water will go out. Also, jumping and pulling the earlobe helps to dry your ear use a hairdryer.

Treatment of outer ear pain

To treat outer ear pain doctors, give painkillers and ear drops. Most of these are available at your local pharmacies, and you do not need any prescription either.

Furthermore, acute ear infections or pain caused due to bacteria need a special ear spray or drops that need to be prescribed by a physician. If it does no improve within a week, then you need to see the doctor again.

Final thoughts

Sudden stabbing pain in the ear is common due to either infection or a sudden change in air altitude or pressure. Sometimes the pain might occur due to a foreign object stuck inside the ear or from TMD.

Moreover, the pain goes away within few days without any treatment. But if it stays more than a week, then consult a doctor.