Thursday, June 10, 2010

Keywords: Sharp, piercing, excruciating ear pain

When I sit down to write in this blog, I generally expect the readers will be my friends and family, or maybe some folks suffering from severe boredom. I'm always delighted to find out that someone new stumbles upon the blog randomly, but when I sit down to write, usually I expect it will be seen by a modest audience of a few regular readers. Well, tonight's blog is a little different. Tonight I'm writing for new people who are searching for the following keywords:
ear pain
sharp, piercing pain in ear
icepick stabbing sensation
excruciating ear pain
worse pain I've ever felt in my life
OMG my ear hurts so bad I want to curl up in a ball and cry
Will someone please tell me what the hell is causing the worst pain I've ever experienced!?!

Some time ago, I was having the absolute worst pain I have ever felt before or since. I had no idea what was causing it, and doctors could find nothing wrong. I spent hours on the internet trying to self-diagnose and found hundreds of things it could have been, but I didn't find any helpful information until I had talked to four different doctors and knew exactly what to type into a google search: TMJ

I went through hell trying to find out what was causing my pain. It would be accurate to describe it as feeling like someone is driving an icepick into my eardrum. Any time I would smile, chew, or move my mouth or ears in any way, spontaneous profanities would erupt from my mouth because the pain was so bad. I was actually worried when it happened at work because the stabbing pains would be so sudden that I couldn't help my outbursts. Imagine if you were to accidentally smash your fingers with a hammer, or slam them in a car door. Those words that would come out of your mouth... those were coming from me every time I smiled, coughed, or turned my head around too quickly. It was hell. And a recurring, unpredictable hell at that.

After a few episodes, I went to my doctor and he couldn't find anything wrong. He gave me some ear drops for the pain and said my ears looked fine. There was no sign of infection or any trace of what was causing the pain. He recommended I come back mid-earache so he could look while I was experiencing the pain. Of course, this always happened on evenings or weekends. He recommended an ear, nose & throat doctor for me to see. I made an appointment and the specialist said the same thing. Nothing looks wrong with my ears, come back when I'm having the problem.

The next time I had an earache was around 7:00 on a weeknight so I went to a Minute Clinic that was open until 8:00. I was about to pass out from the pain, but I walked my swearing self over to the clinic and had her look in my ears. Nothing. There was no sign that anything was wrong. Other than the tears streaming from my eyes and me talking through clenched teeth to try not to aggravate the pain. She prescribed me a different brand of ear drops and told me to go back to the ENT when I was experiencing the pain so they could take a closer look.

The ENT had me get a full CT Scan of my sinuses so they could see if that gave any evidence of what was happening. Again, there appeared to be nothing abnormal in the results. This went on for months. Twice a week I would feel a sudden pain in my ear and would have to lie as still as possible. I would lay down on my right side (it was almost always my left side in pain, but sometimes both.) Eventually I would pass out and fall asleep and the pain would be gone when I woke up. Usually. Sometimes I still felt a dull pain the next day.

Finally I had an earache in the afternoon, abandoned my job and headed for the ENT. I screamed as he looked in my ears because any movement to that ear would cause stabbing, excruciating pain. Even when I stepped off the curb, the motion from hopping down from the curb prompt a stabbing pain. He looked into my ears, I screamed like a banshee, he put down his instruments and told me everything looked fine. He could find nothing that could be causing me any pain at all, let alone the kind of pain that caused a scream that rattled the windows of his office. It was that point when he referred me to an Oral Surgeon because I may have Temporomandibular Joint Disorder: TMJ (or TMD.) He explained that the pain may feel like it's in my ear canal, when really it's in my jaw at the joint. In the neighborhood, but not even close to being the same thing.

As soon as he told me what may be causing the pain (and taught me how to spell it) I knew that's what was happening. The first painful episodes began after I had some extensive dental work, and I could connect the worst episodes to other activities that could cause a strain on the jaw muscles. Doctors had been poking, prodding and violating my ears, but could never see the problem because it was below the surface. That also explained why smiling or laughing would make things worse. Any time the joint moved, the pain would flare up again. It suddenly all made sense.

I was referred to an Oral Surgeon who asked some basic questions and took some x-rays. He said there could be treatment for the joint, but it was a last-resort measure. He put me on a diet of only soft foods for one month. Really soft. Ridiculously soft. I lived on mashed potatoes and applesauce for 30 days, suppressed my yawns, and basically did everything I could to keep my joints relaxed so they could recover. I kept my mouth shut for thirty days, and I am happy to say - it worked!

It's been a year and now that I know the source of the pain, I take extra caution not to put a strain on my jaw. I have gone to the Dentist three times since then and each time I reminded them of the TMJ and they let me rest my jaw so it's not open at full hinge the whole time. I don't chew gum, I don't eat anything that involves excessive masticating, and if I start to feel some pain coming on in that area, I immediately grab the ibuprofen to try and keep the pain at bay. In the last year I have had a bit of pain in the joint, but nothing like what I had been experiencing. Thank heaven for that because that kind of pain is intolerable, especially when it's as unpredictable as it was.

Other than the ibuprofen, it didn't take any surgery or drugs, but only a change in behavior to keep the worst pain imaginable from coming back. That is the reason I am writing this blog. I am not exaggerating when I say that I scoured hundreds of web pages, desperately trying to learn what could possibly be causing my intense pain. I found a few medical message boards, some of them were four years old, but most of the people writing about the symptoms were folks like me who were looking for a diagnosis - and then responses by people offering dozens of possible causes. I apologize to the regular readers if you've made it through this entire entry and feel like you're in a nursing home listening to people ramble on and on about their ailments. I know it's not interesting, but it's important to me. I needed to put my experience out on the web, just for the possibility that someone with the same symptoms may read this during a desperate google search like I performed so many times. Self diagnosis is not always recommended, but in this case all it took for me was to eat soft foods and relax my jaw to stop the most excruciating pain of my life. If you stumbled upon this blog because you were experiencing the same symptoms I was, reach for the mashed potatoes and applesauce for a while. Give your joint a rest for 30 days and if you see a remarkable improvement, you may have just learned something it took several months, numerous doctors, and too many incorrect diagnoses to discover.

47 comments:

Paul said...

When I saw the title of this post, I thought you'd be talking about the vuvvzelas at the World Cup. What you actually wrote about is no doubt far more excruciating. I also have experience with jaw weirdness brought on by dental (orthodontic, actually) work, but it's miniscule by comparison. I'm glad to know that simply giving things a month-long rest seems to have been the ticket.

Diane Clement said...

I hear you 100% and to date (4 years and counting) your account is the closest to mine that I have read. It used to feel better after I slept, but now it doesn't, and it started after a year of obsessive compulsive jaw cracking. I totally tiagnosed myself with trigeminal neuralgia, but TMJ sounds a hell of a lot more managable. The soft diet sounds good, and a mouthguard - for sure. I hold all my tension in my jaw so maybe some added yoga practices. I had my worst fire up last Saturday night - and Oh my ... it edged me to desperation. Thanks for sharing.

Roni Rosenberg said...

i really appreciate youre putting the time to write this. i am experiencing a pain that can be described similarly but not in frequency/interval--right now im ack going on a few days on bothg side and have scoured the web similarly. i also literally did curl up in a ball and cry, which i remember doing only once before --well, in response to one stimuli, over a week or two---which was when i had my wisdomteeth out a few years ago. i have also had unexlainedd, horrible, sinus issues since adolescence, being now. all ent tests and allergy tests come back negative/normal, but i also did have 6 baby teeth removed around just before that time, and i have never encountered/considerred TMJ before for my situation. why i have come to be incredulous about an actual diagnosis, hopefully this does help at least someone. at the moment i may just return to fetal position

Anonymous said...

I am experiencing tje same exact symtoms. I have a dentist appointment in a few days. I'm scared!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog! I know I have TMJ and use a mouth guard at night but I still have these bouts about once a month and honestly want to die when they come on. If you haven't experienced this pain you have no idea how horrible it really is. I joke I'd rather go through childbirth over this pain. It's nice to know I'm not crazy and this pain is real!

Barbara Smithson said...

Sam, my kid who is now seven year old boy, has a Tinnitus, an ear infection. When he got cold and flu, his problem got worst. He could not sleep. He is now having the conventional antibiotics ang got flu vaccination for extra protection. Thankfully, he has become better. A website http://www.tinnitusgoaway.com states the infection is curable. It is a relief knowing such thing. I do wish my son would get better.

Anonymous said...

I've been experiencing shorter lasting, but severe sharp pains in my left ear intermittently. It's there then it's gone, but it hurts so much I have to wonder if it's a neurological issue. Perhaps the TMJ theory is one I need to investigate. Yes, I've been known to exclaim, "What the F*ck??" when it happens, but luckily not yet during a symphony concert.

Anonymous said...

Did you have have blood in the ear when it was at it's worst? for 2 years I have been having terrible stabbing pain. I tried seeing if it would improve by taking dentures out but no difference. It is maddening how sharp it hits me

JespySk said...

Well I did tumble here by a keyword search for sharp stabbing ear pain. I've had TMJ issues since having an wisdom tooth removed years ago. I wear a night guard (can't sleep very well without it) and have a bit of a cold right now. SHARP STABBING FETAL POSITION pain... yep... You prompted me to massage my temples which made me realize the muscles around my ear and head are throbbing. I think you might be onto something. Soft diet.. bllah!

Anonymous said...

thyroid cancer also causes ear pain

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for what you have written here! I'm sure you saved a lot of people a lot of suffering.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will now document when it happens and the events that surround it. I thought I was a wimp going nuts :)

Deepankar Thakur said...

I guess that would be the solution to my problem also.... Thanks a lot for your article...

Jennifer said...

Thank you. I was diagnosed with TMJ as a teenager, but hadn't had problems in years. In the past year, I have had two severe flare ups, both following extensive dental work. I had forgotten all about TMJ and did find your post by Googling "sharp ear pain after dental work". This is exactly what I am experiencing.

Anonymous said...

Hallelujah! I've had the exact symptoms for over ten years now. It only used to happen when I took a sip of cold beer. Now it just happens randomly. Not very often, mind you, but the pain is dern near impossible to describe. Take two extra sharp ice picks, gingerly place them down the ear canal, then take a mallet and bash the picks into ears until they're buried down to their handles.

TMJ research here I come (along with a serious discussion with my dentist and oral surgeon.)

Thanks for the post, you've added a tiny light at the end of a very long and very painful tunnel.

no1interestingyetneeds2write said...

TMJ...I am so glad that I read this. I just awaken (around 5 am) with the ear pain that just hurts so badly, it's unexplainable in mere words. This time, my ear pain has been going on for four (4) days...the longest ever. Maybe I'll try the soft food diet. Thank you for your blog...I needed this!!! :)

Robbie said...

Thanks. You confirmed that I need to call my dentist since the dr. confirmed that its not an ear infection yesterday.

When the pain hits its excruciating. It's awakened me from a sound sleep.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday on the air plane I had the most unimaginable pain in my right ear like your description. I've had TMJ since 1987, but never this. Was it the plane's altitude? Was it because I was so cold that my whole body was shaking--thus my ears were terribly cold also? Thank you for your article. I's just not sure what to do on my next plane ride to prevent this fro happening again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog. I am having my first experience with a sudden onset of excruciating stabbing ear pain that is not relieved by tylenol and ibuprofen at maximum doses. I know I do have TMJ, and have spent a lot of time popping my jaw when stressed. It looks like I need to get a mouth guard again. And to learn how to stop the jaw popping. Relaxation tecniques, and avoidance of stress should take care of it. I will do my best to not allow this to happen again, as ongoing suffering is not acceptable to me. I will try to update you all if I am accurate, and share anything I can to help. Blessings!!

Anonymous said...

geniculate neuralgia. sucks.

Anonymous said...

The same pain as described; stabbing in the left ear. diagnosed with trigeminal neurolgia. they gave me Trileptal but I take it when the pain strikes. It helped.

Dillydidi said...

Thank you for a very interesting and very informative post. I too have on occasion this stabbing pain in my ear. Awful to the point of wanting to cry and run away from myself. Mine is usually brought on when there is a draft or cold wind, so I doubt that it is caused by TMJ but I also find that I cannot touch my ear and that reminds me of neuralgia!

Kellie Eaton said...

Thanks!! And yes its the most excruciating pain I have ever felt...

Amy M said...

Thank you for this enlightening post. My situation is a little different but I can relate to the pain you are describing (like another person said it was next to child birth). I was diagnosed with TMJ a couple of years ago but more serious than that, I had severe whip lash 4 months ago that was left untreated because I was awaiting brain surgery (posterior fossa decompression), which I had just 9 weeks ago. This stabbing ear pain was worse than my symptoms post brain surgery.
But my question is , has any one had swollen glands along with the stabbing ear pain? That is the only other symptom I am having that no one else has included.... Anyone have this too?
I went to the ER this past week and had shots of morphine bc this pain was so bad and we figured it was due to the brain surgery , which still could be. Waiting for my MRI and results from the DR next week.

karen said...

Thank you very much ms pac man I.ll call you! ;) poor thing! But I grit my teeth alot and I think you may be right! Thank you for caring enough to share for others :)

Chris said...

My jaw pops. My ear stabs and it radiates up my scalp. This must be it. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have spent 15 years suffering trying to find a diagnosis. They kept telling me that TMJ was the issue. Spent over 6k on mouth guard and it did nothing for my horrid ear pain. Thank goodness for a few awesome docs that were dedicated to helping. Finally got to a special neurologist who diagnosed me in 5 minutes.

MRI confirmed. Geniculate neuralgia. Sucks.... But I finally have answers. Now I am on to have surgery to snip a nerve so that I will no longer feel the pain.

Anonymous said...

I have been experiencing this same exact pain in my ears which started out in one ear and now in both. Was told by one Dr. at a University Hospital that I would need balloons in both eustachian tubes due to eustachian tube dysfunction. Other ENT's said they could not find anything wrong with my ears despite all the pain and ringing that I was going through that past year. Another ENT said my ears were "pristine" but possibly I had TMJ and referred me to their dental school. Long story short - was diagnosed with TMJ after one year of going to different Dr's and specialists. Going through lots of physical therapy, muscle relaxers, naproxen, and now told I need to get checked for sleep disorder and recommended cognitive behavior therapy - I have to agree delivering a baby was less painful than living with this from one day to the next.

Alex Daniels said...

Merenier's disease? Not sure about the spelling, sorry. Only affects the left ear.

Anonymous said...

hi...i have been diagnosed with TMJ for several yrs...i went to a oral specialist and he made a mouth guard for me to sleep with...helped me immensely...its been 3 yrs that i have been using mouthguard...yesterday, xmas day, i flew from orlando to nyc...slept in a strange bed with a strange pillow...about 3am, i experienced this sharp pain in right ear, as if someone was sticking a knitting needle in my er...pain passed, but it sort of tickles/aches/ stings now...i am sure i just managed to move my jaw into wrong position somehow...am hoping ver a few days this will all clear up, except, i need to sleep in same bed/pillow again tonight...am not looking forward to that...but i do think you should look at the idea of a mouthguard while sleepingif one suffers from tmj...

Diane Cain said...

Magnificent blog post, plenty of valuable info. Keep them coming.
Dental Cleaning

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing, I too had the exact same symptoms. I chew gum all day it helps me deal with stress, and after a day of that, that joint below the ear of my jaw would feel numb, inflamed, and painfull .
As a result now I experience that stabbing ice pick pain, that parrallizes me at that moment, and is so excruciating I have to wait until it subsides before I can resume normal life. I am going to quite gum chewing and try slow breathing to deal with my stress level . I am so happy I stumbled on your blog, the worst part of coping with excruciating , debilitating pain is not knowing why, or what is causing it, especially when it's infrequent and not constant.
Thank you so much, you have helped me out tremendously.

Eddie Kester said...

Thank you. You hit it on the proverbial head. I have experienced the ice pick in the side of my head and actually expected to see blood pour out of my ear. I am so glad to read your experience to be able to learn from it.

Dana said...

Yes! I've had TMJ since I was 15 yes old- I'm 32 now. Arthritis has now set in and I'm in pain constantly. Ice pick ear pain, exactly how you described it, any movements to the face or jaw and it is excruciating. Going on day 2 of ear pain now and finally had to schedule an appointment as nothing touched the pain and sensitivity. Not sure they can even do anything but sure hope so....thanks for the article and a reason for this ice pick in the ear.

TacoNoob Gamer said...

My ear doesn't hurt as bad as that but the fact that you mentioned it might be my jaw really helped.

Arend88 said...

I too, have this symptom. What have I been doing differently since the pain began? My wife bought a different pillow ( a firmer pillow, also started stretching exercises. I also chew gum. It has been excruciating, waking up trying to get rid of the pain. When I close my mouth tightly or move my jaw from side to side, the pain is unbearable. I fear it is a damaged (worn out) joint). Thank you for this informative post. Now to find a solution.

Brendan Swemmer said...

Thanks for sharing. My short stabbing ear pain isn't quite so bad and you've helped me realise its after the wisdom tooth was removed about a week ago. But now its moved to the other ear and accompanied by a burning sensation, like sunburn, going up to my scalp where I also get ice pick headaches. And now a sore throat has decided to join the party.

Anonymous said...

Hello and thank you very much for this site. You are exactly explaining my situation. The TMJ pain I had was a neural pain, which means sharp, sudden, short (a second or less even) but very painful. At first I suspected it is ear because it was in middle ear, I went to ENT doctors got back with drops like you! Then I suspected Trigemianl Neuralgia, but pain was only in ear region. The pain was very severe and started after I ate chewy things for several days. A dentist said it is TMJ pain but I anyway did not believe because internet say that tmj pain is more like muscle pain. Finally a neurologist said that it is neuralgia caused by TMJ joint. There are many nerves passing near the TMJ joint and they cause pain because of irritation/inflammation. It takes some time for these nerves to get back to their normal state.
I am also on soft diet now and feel much better. Unfortunately not all doctors know that TMJ causes nerve pain, only the patients know about it. It was surprising for me that even the ENT doctors do not suspect from this and direct you to a specialist. Almost 40% of ear pain is not able to be diagnosed and called "mystery ear pain". In my opinion there are a lot of people suffering from jaw problems and fall into this group.

Arend88 said...

Thank you for your post. After my excruciating experiences (several over a no. Of weeks) I decided to go to a doctor who suggested TMJ as a cause. He mentioned that this nerve can be blocked via neurosurgery. Anyway, since seeing him I have had no further problems- I don't know why (maybe placebo) . I am keeping my fingers crossed as it is one of the most excruciating experiences I have experienced.
Thanks again for your comments

tinjoy said...

thank you so much for this! I felt exactly what you described here last night. I woke up in the middle of the night because of the excruciating pain on my left ear. I even thought an ant entered my ear and was walking on my ear drum. I was desperately asking God to let the ant go out or do something to stop the pain. I thank God for leading me to this blog. It opened my eyes to the possibility that it could be my jaw. It was a first time for me and I'm really hoping that the pain won't come back again. I'd better take care of my jaw. God bless you!

Myra Herz said...

I experiencing that stabbing pain too,its to painful,and i used to put my finger inside wiggle it and shaking it,then open my mouth up and down and the pain go away aaand cone back again,it happen not frequently but i dont want to wait the pain to stab my ear again,i remember what my dentist told me years ago that i have tmj which i dont pay attention what she said,so i guess this time is worsening i really need to see a dentist asap!

Bronwyn Noeth said...

Thank you..... I had extensive dental work done not so long ago and ever since have been force to endure excruciating pain, the kind of pain that nearly drove me to insanity. It has been a couple of months of non stop agony. I could identify with your spot on description of the intensity of this murderous pain! I feel less alone now, thank you!

Leslie Peres said...

I want to say thank you... I stumbled upon this and read the whole article. Today I experience my first stabbing pain after work... and it hurt enough for me to make the search.

Thank you... I thought it might have been from my teeth... either way... I will rest my jaw...

RIP GHOSTWEAPONS said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I have been going nuts trying to figure out wth is going on .... now it makes sense... much appreciated...

LRN said...

I was first diagnosed with TMJ in 1977. A long time ago, but I had dealt off and on with ear pain my entire life. Not constant, just episodic. The treatment didn't help. I gave up, and just dealt, tuning out as much pain as possible.

Fast forward to 2015. I started treating what eventually (spring of 2016) got diagnosed as glossopharyngeal neuralgia. And treated my TMJ again. I ended up discovering that my left side, which I had thought was my worse TMJ side, was actually the neuralgia primarily.

It is possible to have more than one problem. I am still dealing with my left ear pain, like an icy burning pain, but am working with a neurosurgeon to hopefully figure it out. (He did surgery a month ago. I still hurt. Very discouraging!)

RX Angel said...

Oh my gosh. It sounds like me but does Tmj cause your ear to be touch sensitive as when I have my flare ups, I cannot even butterfly kiss my ear, touching it makes it even worse. The stabbing pain is as everyone described. The 2 ENT'S plus my dentist and family doctor all say they don't see anything and it's probably an ear infection. The only person who helped me was an allergist, as weird as that sounds. I was getting an allergy test done and happened to mention my ear pain and she just says, Sounds like trigeminal Neuralgia so I'm wondering if it's that or TMJ. I need to give my Dr my diagnosis when I see her, lol. Any ideas would be helpful. Thnx!

Unknown said...

I'm do glad I came across this page, I've been having trouble with ear pain since I was 16 and I'm now 23 when I think about it, it started when my wisdom teeth came through, have been to numerous doctors and ent doctors too and they all say the same that there is nothing wrong, it comes on at different times sometimes when I wake up and sometime out of the blue during the day and it is extremely sensitive to touch but like you explained it even hurts to move your mouth or head and sometimes to even walk, I am definitely going to make an appointment with my dentist and get a definitive diagnosis but this definitely sounds like the answer to my problem x thank you xx