Possible causes of a headache or pain behind the ear include nerve injury, an infection, and jaw problems. Medical treatment can help relieve these headaches.
A headache behind the ear refers to any pain originating from that specific head area. Headaches that occur exclusively behind the ear are fairly unusual.
This article explores the signs and symptoms of headaches behind the ear and details what causes them. It also discusses treatment options for relieving pain and associated symptoms.
There are several possible causes of a headache behind the ear. These include the following:
One possible cause of a headache behind the ear is occipital neuralgia.
Occipital neuralgia occurs when the occipital nerves are injured or inflamed, causing pressure or irritation. These nerves run from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp,
The pain usually starts on one side of the head but can spread to both sides. Pressure or irritation can result from inflammation, overly tight muscles, or a traumatic injury.
People with occipital neuralgia describe the pain as piercing and stabbing. The pain typically lasts from
It can feel like being jabbed by a sharp instrument in the following places:
- the upper neck
- the base of the head
- behind the ears
Often, doctors cannot find a cause for occipital neuralgia.
It is more common in children than adults, and most cases are in infants under
In addition to a headache behind the ear, mastoiditis can cause:
Anyone with these symptoms should seek medical help as soon as possible to prevent complications from arising.
Most people with TMJ inflammation feel pain in the jaw and as pain behind the ear, but there may also be:
- clicking or popping sounds in the jaw
- ear pain
- other hearing changes
- feeling as if the ears are full
- tightness in the jaw
TMJ can result from:
- teeth grinding (bruxism)
- an injury
- unusual jaw alignment
- autoimmune diseases
- chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia
Some headaches behind the ears need urgent medical attention to address an underlying cause. In other cases, home remedies may bring relief before or in addition to medical care.
Some home treatments that may help include:
- resting in a quiet room
- over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- massaging neck muscles
- applying heat to the back of the neck
- finding ways to manage stress, such as tai chi or relaxation techniques
- acupuncture by a trained specialist
- jaw exercises for TMJ
For some approaches, such as massage and biofeedback, there is not
Sometimes, a person will need medical treatment for an underlying cause of a headache behind the ears.
For occipital neuralgia, a doctor may prescribe medications such as:
- muscle relaxants
- nerve blocks, which prevent pain messages from reaching the brain
- steroid injections to reduce inflammation
- physical therapy
- antiseizure drugs, such as carbamazepine (Tegretol) and gabapentin
Interventions for occipital neuralgia
- Nerve decompression: A surgeon removes any structures compressing the nerves.
- Occipital nerve modulation: A doctor implants a nerve stimulator to deliver electrical pulses to the occipital nerves. These pulses may help block pain messages to the brain.
- Radiofrequency ablation or cryosurgery: These destroy nerves or structures that are causing pain.
In rare cases, a person may need surgery. This may happen if there is a structural reason for the pain and it does not stop or improve with other treatments.
A person with mastoiditis needs urgent medical attention.
- making a small hole in the eardrum to allow fluid to drain
- inserting a tube into the eardrum to allow fluid to drain and enable ventilation
- surgery to remove infected cells from the mastoid bone
A person may need to spend time in the hospital.
A doctor or dentist may advise a person to use a mouth guard while sleeping to prevent them from grinding their teeth.
If other remedies do not help, TMJ surgery may be an option.
However, these can have adverse effects and may not be suitable for repeated use. A doctor will administer these in their office.
A person should see a doctor for a headache behind the ears if they experience:
- ongoing pain
- severe pain
- other symptoms, such as a fever
Headaches behind the ear can be painful and worrying. Possible causes include occipital neuralgia, mastoiditis, and TMJ pain.
Anyone who has ongoing or severe headaches behind the ears or additional symptoms, such as a fever, should seek medical advice. Infants who have signs of ear pain need immediate medical attention.
Home remedies can often help manage these types of headaches, but some people may need treatment for an underlying condition.