Laryngeal cancer often causes throat pain, but what are the odds that both throat and ear pain at the same time are caused by a malignant tumor of the larynx?
Throat pain or discomfort without any apparent cause can be very unsettling, even to those who’ve never smoked.
Add to that the co-symptom of ear pain, and this can have your heart racing from anxiety for hours on end.
The symptom duo of throat and ear pain might, by chance, have unrelated causes.
For example, acid from the stomach that refluxes up to the voice box (larynx) can make it feel uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, an ear ache can be going on, but caused by something unrelated like an infection, earwax buildup or TMJ disorder.
Likelihood of Laryngeal Cancer Causing Both Pain in the Throat and Ear
“Because of the complex anatomy and nerve pathways in the head and neck region, almost any disorder in these areas can cause referred ear pain,” says Gene Liu, MD, MMM, President, Chair, Department of Surgery; Chief, Division of Otolaryngology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Group.
“Any problems along cranial nerves V, VII, IX, X or the cervical nerves C2 and C3 can result in ear pain,” adds Dr. Liu.
“Sensation to portions of the larynx, or voice box, are carried by the vagus nerve (cranial nerve X).
“Sensation to portions of the ear are carried by the auricular branch of the vagus nerve. Given the shared electrical wiring, any issues of the larynx, including cancer, can lead to ear pain.
“Although it is possible for laryngeal cancer to cause ear pain, the overwhelming majority of patients with ear pain will not have laryngeal cancer, but will have much more mundane diagnoses.”
So if you have simultaneous pain (aching, burning, soreness) in the throat and ear, do yourself a tremendous favor: Do NOT think laryngeal cancer.
But DO see your doctor to figure out the cause or causes. You certainly don’t want to continue experiencing any pain.
Possible Causes of Ear Pain or Ache (alphabetical order)
• Acid reflux
• Acoustic neuroma (benign tumor; very rare cause)
• Air pressure change
• Aphthous ulcer (mouth)
• Angina pectoris (referred pain via the vagus nerve)
• Arthritis of the cervical spine or jaw
• Brain bleed
• Bruxism (teeth grinding)
• Eagle’s syndrome (pain syndrome caused by unusually long bone under the ear)
• Eardrum rupture
• Earwax buildup
• Foreign object (includes shampoo, water)
• Heart attack (referred pain via the vagus nerve)
• Impacted tooth
• Infection (ear, sinus, throat or tooth)
• Inflammation (ear cartilage, mastoids, pharynx, sinus, thyroid, tonsils)
• Laryngeal cancer
• Meniere’s disease (inner ear disorder associated with vertigo)
• Noise: sudden and loud
• Salivary gland stones
• Temporal arteritis
• Thoracic aneurysm (unruptured)
• Tinnitus (hissing, buzzing, ringing in the ear)
• TMJ disorder (misaligned bite)
• Trigeminal neuralgia (facial nerve irritation)
• Tumors (cervical spine, esophageal, lung, parotid, pharyngeal, sinus, thyroid, tongue base, tonsillar)
Throat pain is often caused by infection, which includes sexually transmitted. Other causes are acid reflux, airborne irritants, allergies, dry air, inflammation and tumors.
Conditions Other than Laryngeal Cancer that Can Cause Both Throat and Ear Pain or Discomfort
• Acid reflux
• Aphthous ulcer
• Dental problems
• Eagle’s syndrome
• Infection (common cold, flu, throat)
• Inflammation (pharynx, sinus, throat, thyroid)
• TMJ disorder
• Tumors (esophageal, parotid, pharyngeal, thyroid, tongue base, tonsillar)
Some of the above causes in both categories are quite rare, e.g., brain bleed, thoracic aneurysm and herpes.
The symptom duo of ear pain or aching with a painful or sore throat is not a cause for alarm over laryngeal cancer.
If the symptoms don’t begin resolving after several days, or there’s pus, swelling, lumps, fever or other concerning symptoms, see a doctor.