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Diagnosis of Ear Pain - Article
ABSTRACT: Many patients in primary care present with ear pain (otalgia). When the ear is the source of the pain (primary otalgia), the ear examination is usually abnormal. When the ear is not the source of the pain (secondary otalgia), the ear examination is typically normal. The cause of primary otalgia is usually apparent on examination; the most common causes are otitis media and otitis externa. The cause of secondary otalgia is often difficult to determine because the innervation of the ear is complex and there are many potential sources of referred pain. The most common causes are temporomandibular joint syndrome, pharyngitis, dental disease, and cervical spine arthritis. If the diagnosis is not clear from the history and physical examination, options include a trial of symptomatic treatment without a clear diagnosis; imaging studies; and consultation with an otolaryngologist. Patients who smoke, drink alcohol, are older than 50 years, or have diabetes are at higher risk of a cause of ear pain that needs further evaluation. Patients whose history or physical examination increases suspicion for a serious occult cause of ear pain or whose symptoms persist after symptomatic treatment should be considered for further evaluation, such as magnetic resonance imaging, fiberoptic nasolaryngoscopy, or an erythrocyte sedimentation rate measurement.