Intense itching of the ears is often a symptom of TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder. Many people suffer with itchy ears for years without knowing the cause. Here are the symptoms, causes, and suggestions for treating ear itch associated with TMJ disorder.
TMJ disorder is a condition of the jaw joint(s), or temporomandibular joints, and most often appears in adults. Usually both jaw joints are affected. With TMJ disorder, everything is interconnected. Due to the proximity of the jaw joints to the ears, people with TMJ disorder often suffer problems of the ears.
Common ear problems in TMJ disorder include:
- intense itching in one or both ears
- pain in the inner ear, sometimes radiating to the jaw and teeth
- dryness, flaking or crustiness in the ears
- watery discharge in the ears
- crawling feeling in the ears
- stuffy ears
- itch in the throat
- irresistible urge to scratch
- dizziness or lack of co-ordination
- hearing impairment or hearing loss
- noise sensitivity
- often, a combination of the above
Symptoms may be worse in the morning, or may persist throughout the day. Many ear itch sufferers sleep badly and wake up scratching in the middle of the night. Because many doctors aren’t familiar with TMJ disorder, a patient can suffer from ear itch for years without knowing the cause.
Ear Itch and TMJ Disorder: Overview
A person with chronic ear itch may feel she’s going crazy. Conventional treatments for ear itch may not work, or may work only temporarily. Despite intense itching and pain, the ears may appear normal under medical inspection, and an ear itch sufferer may be told there’s nothing wrong, or that it’s all in her head.
The reason is simple. TMJ ear itch comes from nerve endings in the ears. When the nerves are inflamed, the nerve endings produce histamines, which cause the itch. The sufferer may feel extreme discomfort, but the doctor may see nothing obviously wrong unless there’s an ear infection or raw skin/bleeding in the ears due to excessive scratching. In those cases, the doctor may treat the symptoms but not the cause, and the ear itch continues unabated.
In the area of the jaw joints, there’s a vast intertwined network of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. A slight imbalance in the jaw joint can cause a range of chronic symptoms, including pain and itch in the ears. Please read TMJ Disorder: Basic Anatomy of the Jaw Joint.
TMJ disorder may also affect ear wax production. Usually, ear wax is soft and dark yellowish (in some people of Asian descent, ear wax may be drier or greyish, but this is normal). In TMJ disorder, the ear wax may change consistency, become dry and stick to the ear canals. The skin of the ear canals may feel cracked or crusty. Picking at the flakes can make the skin raw and inflamed, compounding the ear misery.