Is This Pain Behind My Ear and Down My Neck a Symptom of COVID-19?

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pain behind the ear and neck

Earaches, neck pain, and stiffness are common occurrences that most people experience at some point in their lives.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, any new onset of pain leads to the question: could these common symptoms be related to a SARS-CoV-2 infection?

Ear and neck pain can stem from numerous causes – some innocent, and others quite serious. Therefore, it is important to understand the possible links between these frequent symptoms and COVID-19, how to diagnose the cause, and what treatments are available.

How COVID-19 Can Lead to Ear and Neck Discomfort

COVID-19 is highly complex in how it impacts the body. Experts are still learning about the multitude of symptoms it can cause. So how might a COVID-19 infection trigger painful symptoms in the ears and neck?

Viral Infection and Inflammation

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is capable of infecting cells throughout the respiratory tract, including the nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs. This can lead to inflammation as the immune system responds.

Swelling in the nasal cavity and sinusitis can put pressure on the eustachian tubes, affecting the middle ear and potentially causing clogged sensations and pain.

Inflammation may also irritate the cranial nerves and sensory ganglia that supply the ears and neck, leading to referred pain in those areas. Lymph nodes may swell as they fight off the infection, resulting in neck soreness and stiffness.

Secondary Impacts

In some cases, ear and neck discomfort results secondarily from other COVID-19 symptoms.

For example, severe headaches related to the virus can radiate pain down into the neck. Prolonged coughing and muscular strain from illness can also cause neck stiffness and pain.

Stress, anxiety, poor sleep, and spending long periods in bed due to COVID-19 fatigue can increase muscle tension and spasms in the neck. The mental strain and isolation of illness may also contribute to stress headaches that cause ear and neck pain.

Diagnosing the Cause of Ear and Neck Pain

Because numerous medical conditions can cause discomfort in the ears and neck, it is important to seek a professional diagnosis rather than assume COVID-19 is to blame.

Healthcare providers have the following approaches available to identify whether COVID-19 is the source of pain:

Medical History

Information on the timeline and nature of symptoms provides key clues. If ear pain, neck stiffness, or headache developed along with other common COVID-19 symptoms like fever, fatigue, cough, or loss of taste, it points to a connection.

Physical Examination

Examination of the ears, nose, throat, neck, and neurological function can reveal potential causes like ear infections, lymph node swelling, muscle tension, or neurological issues.

Imaging and Laboratory Tests

CT scans can identify sinusitis or fluid buildup related to ear pain. Bloodwork can check for indicators of infection vs. inflammation. COVID-19 diagnostic or antibody tests can confirm current or past SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Seeking Relief: Treatments for COVID-Related Ear and Neck Discomfort

senior man taking pain medication

For mild to moderate ear and neck pain believed to be associated with COVID-19, the following remedies may provide relief:

Over-the-Counter Medications

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can alleviate pain, fevers, and inflammation. Decongestants may relieve ear pressure from sinus congestion.

Home Remedies

Warm compresses, massage, and gentle neck stretches may loosen up muscle tension causing neck soreness. Staying well hydrated and resting can help healing.

Follow Up Medical Care

If pain persists or worsens after the acute COVID-19 illness, follow up with a primary care physician for evaluation. They may prescribe medication, refer you to physical therapy, or order imaging to diagnose the cause.

Specialist Referral

For prolonged ear pain or hearing changes after COVID-19, see an ENT specialist to assess for eustachian tube dysfunction or nerve damage. Neurologists can evaluate severe headaches or neck pain.

Red Flag Symptoms: When to Seek Emergency Care

Most earaches and neck pain from COVID-19 will resolve along with the infection. However, there are some “red flag” symptoms that require urgent medical attention:

Neurological Changes

If neck stiffness is accompanied by coordination problems, weakness, numbness, or tingling, it could indicate a serious neurological issue requiring prompt evaluation.

Severe, Unrelenting Pain

Ear or neck pain that becomes excruciating or is not responsive to over-the-counter pain medications warrants emergency care to identify the cause and treatment options.

Drainage From the Ear

Fluid draining from the ear canal could indicate a ruptured eardrum or a serious ear infection like mastoiditis. Seek immediate treatment to prevent permanent hearing loss or sepsis.

Speech Changes

Slurred speech can be a sign of facial drooping and stroke. Other neurological changes like confusion with neck pain need rapid assessment as well.

While the majority of COVID-related ear and neck discomfort will be mild and temporary, caution is advised if the pain becomes severe or accompanies any alarming symptoms. Do not hesitate to seek immediate care for pain that feels serious, life-threatening, or won’t resolve.

Conclusion: Listen to Your Body

Earaches and neck pain are nuanced symptoms requiring professional diagnosis. While COVID-19 is one possible cause, many other medical conditions can lead to these issues and need specific treatments.

Don’t try to self-diagnose neck stiffness or ear pain as COVID-related without consulting your healthcare provider first.

If you develop new ear or neck pain along with other viral symptoms, take note of the timeline and details.

This information will help your doctor determine whether COVID-19 could be the source. Mild symptoms can initially be managed with conservative home treatments.

However, follow up promptly if the pain worsens or additional red flag symptoms develop. Listen to what your body is telling you. With an accurate diagnosis, most causes of ear and neck discomfort can be effectively treated for relief.

Could Neck Pain Be a Subtle Sign of COVID-19? Get Checked Out.

a senior man complains his symptoms to his doctor

Some people with COVID-19 experience mild neck pain and stiffness before other major symptoms appear.

If you have unexplained neck aches combined with fever, fatigue, or headache, it may be wise to get medically evaluated. Kaly offers an easy way to connect with doctors online for a quick virtual consult about your symptoms.

Their experienced physicians can assess your neck discomfort, order COVID testing if warranted, and provide guidance on the next steps. Don’t wait – get peace of mind and catch potential COVID cases early.

Book a visit with a top doctor through Kaly’s website today.