Headache Behind the Ear

A headache behind the ear refers to any pain that starts in that particular part of the head. Although headaches themselves are very common, headaches that occur specifically behind the ear are quite uncommon.

This type of headache can have many causes, from nerve injury to dental problems. The cause of a headache behind the ear will determine the symptoms and treatment.

This article explores the signs and symptoms of a headache behind the ear and explains why. It also discusses how they can be treated to relieve pain and associated symptoms.

Headache Behind the Ear

Causes Headache Behind Ears

There are several possible causes of a headache behind the ear. These include the following:

Occipital Neuralgia

One of the most common causes of headaches behind the ear is a condition called occipital neuralgia.

Occipital neuralgia occurs when the occipital nerves, or the nerves that run from the top of the spine to the skull, are injured or inflamed.

People often mistake a sharp pain behind the ear for a migraine or similar headache, as the symptoms can be similar.

People who suffer from occipital neuralgia describe the chronic pain as piercing and throbbing. They also describe it as a sensation of electric shock in the following places:

  • upper neck
  • behind the ears
  • back of the head

Occipital neuralgia results from pressure or irritation on the occipital nerve. It usually only appears on one side of the head.

In some cases, pressure or irritation may be caused by inflammation, overly tight muscles, or injury. Often, doctors can’t find a cause for occipital neuralgia.


Mastoiditis is an infection of the mastoid bone, which is the bone behind the ear.

This infection is much more common in children than in adults and usually responds to treatment without complications.

Mastoiditis causes headache behind the ear as well as fever, watery discharge, fatigue, and hearing loss in the affected ear.


The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the hair and socket joints of the jaw. These joints can be swollen and painful.

While most people with TMJ inflammation experience pain in the jaw and behind the ear, others may only experience headaches behind the ear.

TMJ can be caused by:

  • stress
  • jaw alignment
  • teeth grinding
  • injury
  • arthritis


Symptoms of a headache behind the ear can vary depending on the cause.

Occipital neuralgia can cause severe pain in the back of the head and/or upper neck. Often, it can start at the neck and work its way to the back of the head. Episodic pain is like an electric shock in the back of the head and/or neck.

Symptoms of infection, such as fever or fatigue, often accompany mastoiditis.

People experiencing TMJ may experience jaw tightness and pain in addition to headaches behind the ears.

Additional symptoms that people with headaches behind the ear may experience include:

  • pain on one or both sides of the head
  • pain with neck movement
  • aching, burning, and throbbing pain
  • pain behind the eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • tender scalp

Home Treatments for Headache Behind Ears

Pain medication is the primary way to deal with a headache behind the ear, until the underlying cause can be determined.

There are some home treatment options for people before or in addition to a doctor’s care.

Some home remedies include:

  • Relax in a quiet room
  • Reduce mental stress
  • Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, are also available to buy online
  • Apply heat to the back of the neck. Hat packs are available to purchase online
  • Neck muscle massage
  • Stop grinding your teeth

As with any treatment option, a doctor should be consulted before adding medication.

Usually, a headache behind the ear is not the result of a life-threatening condition.

In many cases, people experience pain relief by resting and taking medication as prescribed or directed.

In most cases, people with behind-the-ear headaches should experience complete or near-complete symptom relief with proper diagnosis and treatment.

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