How can an Ear Infection be a Neck Problem?

by Dr. Kilcup | Jun 8, 2013 | Articles, Chiropractic, Chronic Sinusitis, Sinus

ear infection

If you, or someone you know, have ever had an ear infection, you know how painful they can be.  In this article I will explain how one type of ear infection is caused by a neck problem.

There are 3 places an Ear Infection can Happen.

The first place is in the “outer ear”.  The area from the ear drum to the outside of the ear canal is considered the outer ear.  The outer ear infection is commonly called swimmer’s ear.

The second place an ear infection can happen is in the “middle ear”.  The middle ear is the space behind the ear drum.  The bones that transfer the vibrations from the ear drum to the auditory nerve are in the middle ear.  The eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the throat and allows air to pass through.  When there is an ear infection in the middle ear it is very painful.  The pain comes from the pressure that builds up inside the middle ear when the tube gets blocked, and the infection creates puss.  The middle ear area becomes like one big pimple and sometimes the ear drum pops just like a pimple.

The last place an ear infection can happen is in the “inner ear.” The inner ear contains amazing sensors that help us with our balance.  An inner ear infection is one cause of vertigo.  I have a great article about vertigo.

ear infection
An ear infection can occur in the outer, middle or inner ear.

The Most Common Ear Infection

The middle ear infection is the most common kind of infection.  Middle ear infections can become very stubborn, especially in kids.  The standard medical treatment is either to do nothing, use antibiotics, or perform surgery to insert a tube into the ear drum.

There is a common cause of middle ear infection that very few doctors seem to be aware of.  After this article you’ll wonder why this isn’t one of the first things checked when someone has an ear infection.

One reason this type of ear infection is not understood is because of the way most doctors tend to think.  Doctors are trained to treat symptoms rather than address the cause of them.  The standard medical treatment for most problems is never to ask the question, “WHY did this problem occur?”  When a patient has an infection, the protocol is to prescribe an antibiotic without looking into the reason the body is not able to fight the infection on its own.  When someone has a headache, they are given a painkiller instead of investigating the cause of the headache.  A person with high blood pressure gets drugs without addressing the reason for the high blood pressure.

The focus I have with my patients is to figure out the root cause of the problem.  Ear infections are a great example of this. Why would a middle ear have an infection?  Well, some sort of bad bug gets into the middle ear and multiplies like crazy.

The Cause

Let me ask you a question.  How often does the middle ear get a harmful microbe?  Are middle ears sterile until they get infected? Let’s broaden the question to understand this point even better.  Do you think that your skin, throat, sinus, ears, intestines or urinary track is sterile until it gets an infection?  If you answered NO, you are very smart!  

Our bodies are surrounded with all kinds of microbes from the moment we are born until those microbes consume our flesh!  If we could swab 1000 middle ears, we would find that not one middle ear was sterile.  We would also find that most of those ears had those very same bad microbes that cause middle ear infections.  However, out of the 1000 people, it is very possible that none of them had a current ear infection. So, it seems pretty obvious to me that if the bad bugs are in the ear, eye, nose, stomach, etc. all the time, then there must be something that causes one person to get an infection while the next person remains well.

The Cure

What happens in the ear that would cause an infection to break out?  The immune system is a huge component in preventing infections.  However, in the middle ear there is something that can go wrong that will allow microbes to flourish.  I bet you can figure this out with another question. Why does inserting a tube into the ear drum work to “cure” stubborn ear infections?  What does the tube do to the middle ear?  The tube allows air into the middle ear.  The microbes that cause ear infections are anaerobic.  That means that they do best in environments that do not have oxygen.  When a tube is put into the ear drum, oxygen gets in and the bad microbes meet their maker!

The eustachian tube goes from the middle ear to the throat. Its job is to let air in the middle ear.  If it gets blocked, oxygen won’t get into the middle ear, and it will be overrun by bad bugs.

Ear infections and neck pain are often connected due to the close proximity of the ear and neck anatomy. Ear infections can cause inflammation and swelling of the Eustachian tube, which can lead to fluid buildup and pressure. This pressure can radiate to the neck, causing pain and discomfort in the surrounding tissues. Additionally, the lymph nodes in the neck may become swollen and tender, leading to further neck discomfort.

Misalignment of neck bones can often be the root cause of ear pain. When these bones are out of place, they can irritate the nerves that extend from the neck to the ear. This can then trigger symptoms that resemble those of an ear infection, including pain, ringing sensations, and dizziness. Chiropractic care offers an effective solution by realigning the neck bones, thereby reducing nerve irritation and inflammation, and alleviating the associated ear-related symptoms.

How to Treat an ear infection to help relieve neck pain

Treating an ear infection can often help to relieve neck pain that is associated with the infection. The first step in treating an ear infection is to see a healthcare provider, who can diagnose the infection and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. Depending on the severity and cause of the infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection, pain medications to relieve discomfort, or ear drops to help reduce inflammation and swelling.

If your ear-related symptoms and neck pain are caused by misalignments in the bones of the neck, chiropractic care can be an effective treatment option. By adjusting the misaligned bones, a chiropractor can reduce irritation and inflammation in the affected nerves, alleviating the ear-related symptoms and neck pain. Chiropractic care may be used in conjunction with medical treatments such as antibiotics or ear drops to provide comprehensive relief from ear infections and associated neck pain.

Overall, treating an ear infection can help to relieve neck pain by addressing the underlying cause of the discomfort. By seeking professional medical advice, following a recommended treatment plan, and incorporating home remedies and chiropractic care as appropriate, you can alleviate your symptoms and prevent future discomfort.

Start Today!

If you have questions or get help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office. We are located in Phoenix, Arizona and have been here for over 30 years. We have Chiropractic Care, Functional Medicine, Massage Therapy, Red Light Therapy, and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy – all to best help you feel your best and get to the root cause!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do ear infections make your neck hurt?

Ear infections can cause pain in the neck because the nerves that connect the ear to the neck are all connected. When there is an infection in the ear, it can cause inflammation and swelling, which can put pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain that may radiate to the neck. Additionally, the lymph nodes in the neck may also become swollen and tender as the body fights the infection, leading to further neck discomfort.

What does it mean when your neck and ear hurt?

Ear infections can sometimes be caused by misalignments in the bones of the neck, which can lead to nerve irritation and symptoms that mimic an ear infection, such as ear pain and ringing. Chiropractic care can be an effective treatment for these types of ear-related symptoms by addressing the underlying neck issue through bone adjustments that can alleviate nerve irritation and inflammation. While antibiotics may still be necessary to treat an actual ear infection, addressing the neck issue can help prevent future ear-related symptoms.

Can a blocked ear cause neck pain?

Yes, an ear infection can cause pain behind the ear and neck. This is because the nerves that connect the ear to the neck are all interconnected. When there is an ear infection, it can cause inflammation and swelling, which can put pressure on nearby nerves, leading to pain that can radiate to the neck and behind the ear. Additionally, the lymph nodes in the neck can become swollen and tender as the body fights the infection, causing further discomfort in the neck and behind the ear.

When should I see a healthcare provider for neck pain?

You should see a healthcare provider for neck pain if the pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms such as numbness, tingling, weakness, or fever. You should also seek medical attention if you have recently been in an accident or suffered a head or neck injury, or if your neck pain is interfering with your daily activities or quality of life. In some cases, neck pain may be a symptom of a more serious condition that requires prompt medical attention, so it’s important to seek professional advice if you are concerned about your symptoms.

Darrell Kilcup, DC, CFMP

Hi there! I’m Dr. Kilcup. You know that health problem you’ve been dealing with – the one that doctors can’t seem to solve, that’s stealing way too much of your time, energy and joy? I can help you get to the bottom that. I am passionate about using the best of science and nutrition to find and fix root causes of health issues. Start your journey towards healing and relief today.

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