Not Actually Ear Pain


For over a week, I struggled with ear pain. I even contemplated going to urgent care a few times. But there was a news report about an uptick in flu cases in my city. And my ear was neither swollen nor red on the inside, so it probably wasn’t infected. And my body can’t physically handle getting the flu. Having a severe cold or migraine that keeps me in bed extra hours already ramps up my pain levels. Hell, sleeping in can ramp up my pain levels.

Meaning an uptick in flu cases requires serious consideration. Is my ear pain really extreme enough to go to Urgent Care when my doctor can’t get me in? I had my flu shot, but that was around Thanksgiving, meaning it’s mostly worn off. Everyone’s has, which is why there’s an uptick in flu cases. I spent 3 days debating going to the doctor. Each day, my doctor couldn’t get me in, his emergency same day appointments were filled. And unless my ear drum actually ruptures, it’s not worth the risk of going to Urgent Care where I’ll be exposed to all manner of things worse than an earache.

On the 4th day, I thought about my ear pain. I’d talked to the nurse at my doctor’s office and they suspected a blockage, because I was having some trouble with my jaw. What none of us consider was that I am a prolific teeth grinder and jaw clencher. Those fancy nightguards you get from the dentist? I’ve broken one. Now I buy cheap night guards and sleep in those. Three or four days a week, I awake spitting out rubber. On those days, I also wake up with a really bad headache.

Roughly two weeks ago, my primary care doctor decided to let my pain management doctor take over my prescription for muscle relaxers. Except my pain management doctor doesn’t believe in prescribing muscle relaxers, especially since the only one medically approved for treating teeth grinding and jaw clenching is cyclobenzaprine which is psychologically addictive.

Once, when I was in my 20s, I had someone tell me they couldn’t eat something because they had TMJ. I had no clue what TMJ was. I’ve learned since then that it is related to teeth grinding and jaw clenching, but I’ve never had it. On day 4 of my ear problems, I did a deep dive for symptoms of TMJ. The hinge at my jaw was bothering me, a dull ache that got worse when I yawned or chewed. And both of those made my ear pain worse.

While it’s mostly an ache in my ear drum, when I yawn or chew, it’s a sharp stabbing pain in my ear drum. But what about the fever? I had rhinoplasty in 2005 because I always had a low grade sinus infection. In the last two years, I’ve had a ton of sinus infections along with complications of sinus infections. And I’ve had a cough all winter and battled some mild congestion.

Most likely I have a sinus infection and TMJ going on. I wouldn’t be the first person to have mild vertigo problems with a sinus infection or a fever. And the ear pain could definitely be from TMJ. And neither of those things are serious enough problems to risk getting influenza. I talked to my editor about it, she’s had TMJ and my ear symptoms match hers.

Wish me luck.

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