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By Shana Aborn/Sept. 12, 2021 4:06 pm EDT

No one likes to be in pain, but certain types of pains are more agonizing than others. Among them is ear pain; for such a small part of the body, it can cause unbearable agony when something is wrong with it. The inner ear is so sensitive that anything entering it – even a bit of stray hair – can leave you wincing. Knowing what might be causing your ear pain can help you get the help and treatment you need.

One common reason for inner ear pain is an excess of ear wax. The wax can harden and block the ear canal; digging too deeply with a cotton swab can exacerbate the problem, according to WebMD. Over-the-counter remedies can soften the wax enough to let it come out on its own, but more serious cases should be treated by a doctor.

You may also feel pain in your ear when you have a cold due to swelling and fluid that builds up in the inner ear (via Premier Medical Group). Once the cold symptoms subside, the ear pain usually does, too. If it doesn’t, that can signal an ear infection, particularly if the pain is accompanied by other symptoms like dizziness, using illegal drugs while taking zoloft fever, and appetite loss. Ear infections should be seen by a doctor who can prescribe antibiotics.

Earwax and colds can cause pain in either ear, but there is one more cause of pain that may be affecting the right ear; you might be holding it right now!

Your cell phone use could be causing your ear pain

If you find that your right ear has been hurting more than usual, your technology might be to blame. Right-handed people tend to hold their cell phone to their right ear when they talk, via a study cited in USA Today. For left-brained people, they are also more likely to favor the right ear when calling. 

Holding your phone against your right ear for long periods can make the outer ear sore and red. The phone itself can also raise the temperature of your ear slightly, according to a small study published in Electromagnetics (via PubMed). And while it’s not common, the thermal waves emitted from the phone may also enter the inner ear, causing pressure and pain, according to a doctor who spoke to the Malaysian newspaper The Star. Having a blocked eustachian tube may increase the risk of sensitivity to these thermal waves.

Right ear pain may also have nothing to do with the ear itself. Certain nerves in the face and neck may become irritated and cause “referred pain” in the ear. For instance, temporomandibular jaw disorder, a condition affecting jaw function, can cause both facial and ear pain, according to American Family Physician. 

Most of the time, simple ear pain goes away on its own or with over-the-counter pain relievers. If your aching ear is accompanied by fever, vomiting, dizziness, or hearing loss, it’s time to see a doctor.

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