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Ear Feeling Clogged and Jaw Pain

Q: For the past couple of months, my right ear has been feeling clogged. I keep thinking that if I could just pop it, I'd get some relief. I'll try to yawn and open my mouth as wide as I can, but it doesn't help and actually makes the whole right side of my jaw feel sore. My doctor says I don't have an ear infection, so what could it be?

Dr. Donnica:
What did your doctor say it could be? It would be helpful to know if your doctor noticed any fluid behind your eardrum or any other unusual findings. It would also help to know if you saw a generalist or if you consulted an otolaryngologist, an ear, nose and throat specialist (also called an ENT). This could be a symptom of otomandibular syndrome, which may be related to TMJ (temperomandibular joint problems).

More than 10 million Americans (mostly women in their childbearing years) are affected by TMJ, which includes several poorly understood conditions with unknown causes characterized by pain in the jaw and surrounding tissues and limitations in jaw movements. Injury and conditions that routinely affect other joints in the body, such as arthritis, also affect the temperomandibular joint.

TMJ is often difficult to diagnose, but you should be evaluated by an ENT or dentist (or both). They may tell you that some TMJ problems improve on their own, without treatment, within weeks or months with simple home therapy such as applying ice or moist heat, massage and various stretching exercises. You should also avoid making extreme jaw movements (such as wide yawning, loud singing, and gum chewing). They may recommend a special splint or some anti-inflammatory medicines. For some patients, however, symptoms may worsen over time and develop into a chronic pain condition. For more information, go to www.tmj.org.

Created: 6/29/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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