Otalgia, also known as an earache, is pain in the ear. There are two main types of otalgia:

Primary otalgia is pain that originates as the result of pathology within the ear itself. Examples of primary otalgia include external otitis, otitis media, mastoiditis, and auricular infections. Diagnosis of theses conditions is fairly straightforward, and standard treatment generally alleviates the problem.

Referred otalgia arises from non-otological disease. Referred otalgia can be the result of a vast number of problems ranging from dental issues to a more serious condition requiring immediate diagnosis and intervention. Because of this, physicians must use a structured, systematic approach to identify the etiology of the patient’s pain. A comprehensive history and exhaustive physical examination are crucial components of this approach. The findings of the history and physical examination will determine what interventions or additional testing may be indicated.

Sheri J. Polley, ‘Doctor, My Ear Hurts’: Diagnosing Referred Otalgia, ENT Today (Apr. 1, 2008),

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