Ear infection bad breath

Why Is My Earwax Smelly?

Earwax is a normal and an important part of keeping your ears healthy and clean. However, smelly earwax can indicate a problem. If your earwax smells, it may be caused by a medical condition or other complication.

What causes smelly earwax?

There are a number of causes of smelly earwax. Usually other symptoms are also present, and they can help you get to the root of the problem.

Excessive earwax

Excessive earwax can cause a blockage. Due to the blockage, the excessive wax may be smelly. Additional symptoms of excessive earwax are:

  • earache
  • difficulty hearing
  • drainage

Ear infection

Ear infections usually occur in your middle ear. They can be either bacterial or viral. The infections are most often painful due to inflammation and buildup. An ear infection can cause drainage and you might notice a bad smell.

Children with ear infections may have these signs and symptoms as well:

  • ear pain
  • tugging on the ear
  • trouble sleeping or hearing
  • acting grumpy
  • increased crying
  • loss of balance
  • fever at or above 100.4˚F (38˚C)
  • loss of appetite
  • headache

Adults may have the following symptoms, in addition to the drainage:

  • trouble hearing
  • ear pain

Foreign object in ear

It’s possible for both children and adults to get something stuck in their ear. Children sometimes put objects such as beads, small toys, and food in their ears out of curiosity. Children and adults may also get an insect stuck in their ear.

Along with smelly earwax, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • pain
  • hearing loss
  • infection

Swimmer’s ear

Swimmer’s ear is usually caused by water that stays in your ear after swimming. The water keeps the outer ear moist, which results in an infection. Your ear may feel like it’s still underwater, and the infection can cause smelly earwax.

Other symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  • itching in the ear canal
  • redness inside the ear
  • mild discomfort
  • pus
  • trouble hearing
  • fever


Cholesteatomas are skin growths that are usually cysts. They develop behind your eardrum, in the middle part of the ear. These skin growths are noncancerous. You may develop a cholesteatoma if you have had many middle ear infections. Some are also birth defects.

Smelly earwax or drainage can be one of the first symptoms of a cholesteatoma. Other symptoms include:

  • a feeling of pressure in the ear
  • aching in or behind the ear
  • hearing loss
  • trouble with balance
  • decreased function of facial muscles

Ear cancer

Ear cancer is very rare, but can occur in the ear canal, middle ear, or inner ear. It can be caused by frequent ear infections, but the main cause isn’t known. Squamous cell cancer is the most common type of ear cancer. Other types include:

  • basal cell cancer
  • melanoma
  • adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • adenocarcinoma

The symptoms for ear cancer depend on whether it’s located in your ear canal, middle ear, or inner ear, and may include:

  • discharge from the ear that may include blood
  • pain
  • hearing loss
  • weakness in the face, if located in ear canal
  • a lump, if located in ear canal
  • inability to move your face on the side with the tumor, if in middle ear
  • earache, if located in middle ear
  • headache or dizziness, if located in inner ear
  • ringing in the ear

How is smelly earwax treated?

It’s important to not stick objects in your ear in an attempt to get rid of the wax. This includes cotton swabs and paper clips. Trying to dig out the problem can cause objects to lodge further into the ear. It can also seriously damage your eardrum or ear canal.

Home remedies will partly depend on the cause of your smelly earwax.

  • Soften the wax with an eyedropper of baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, or mineral oil.
  • A couple days after the wax has softened, use a rubber syringe to spray warm water into your ear. Tip your affected ear up when spraying the water. Then tilt it down for the water to run out. Don’t spray water in your ear if you have ear pain, drainage, or signs of infection such as fever. In these cases, see your doctor for a diagnosis.
  • Use a towel or blow-dryer to gently dry your outer ear.

Don’t attempt to use ear candling to remove the wax. This procedure involves placing a candle in the ear. Research shows the treatment doesn’t work and may cause injury.

If home treatment doesn’t cure your wax buildup, your doctor can remove the wax. Your doctor may use a curet, a suction, a water pick, or a rubber-bulb syringe. Earwax usually doesn’t need to be removed if it’s not causing any symptoms.

If you think you have an ear infection, you should see your doctor for treatment. Some indicators of an ear infection are symptoms that last more than a day, severe ear pain, and discharge. You’ll also want to see your doctor if the symptoms of an ear infection are present in a child under six months, and if the child is grumpy and can’t sleep shortly after having a cold.

Your doctor may use any of the following treatments:

  • waiting one or two weeks to see if the ear infection goes away on its own
  • pain medication
  • warm compress
  • antibiotics
  • Remove the object with tweezers if it’s visible and toward the surface.
  • Tilt your head down to try to remove the object with gravity.
  • Use a rubber-bulb syringe to try to wash the object out with warm water.
  • If an insect is stuck in your ear, use warm olive oil, baby oil, or mineral oil to try to remove it.

If a young child has the foreign object stuck, if these methods don’t work, or if you still feel pain, discharge, or hearing loss, seek medical help.

Since swimmer’s ear is an infection, it should be treated by a doctor. Your treatment may include cleaning your ear with a suction or medication for the infection or for pain.

To help your ear heal, don’t swim or fly, and don’t wear a hearing aid, earplugs, or headphones until cleared by your doctor. Avoid getting water in your ear when you take a bath or shower. Use a cotton ball with petroleum jelly while bathing to keep your ear from getting wet.

If you think you have a cholesteatoma, you should see your doctor. Their recommended treatment will likely include antibiotics and eardrops and carefully cleaning the ear. If these don’t work, you may need to have the cyst removed with surgery.

If you have ear cancer, your doctor will likely recommend surgery. You may also need radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

What is the outlook for smelly earwax?

Smelly earwax is usually accompanied by other symptoms. If home remedies don’t clear up your earwax issue in a couple of days, check in with your doctor.

Can an Infant Ear Infection Affect Your Baby’s Oral Health

New parent? Then you know just how many questions come with your little bundle of joy. From wondering how often to feed to choosing the right car seat, it can seem like there are more questions than answers. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, along comes teething or the first infant ear infection.

When your son or daughter gets fussy, how do you know if it’s just teething or something more serious? Can an ear infection affect your baby’s health? Consider these and similar issues in this easy dental primer:

Is It Teething or an Ear Infection?

One of the reasons parents often associate teething with ear infections is because the symptoms are so similar. Either way, one of the first signs of an issue is fussiness: Your baby might seem uncomfortable, wake more in the night or pull at his ears. Although ear infections and teething share symptoms, there are a few that allow you to tell the two apart. According to pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears, teething starts around four months of age, may cause a low-grade fever (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), but will not cause a runny nose. Ear infections often cause higher fevers, a runny nose and other cold-like symptoms – along with ear pain. Watch your baby’s behavior to gauge whether the fussiness comes from an oral issue or ear infection.

Does Teething Cause Ear Infections?

Because ear infections are primarily caused by bacteria, according to Dr. Sears, you can rest easy when you notice those first teeth making their appearance in your baby’s gummy grin: There is no proven correlation between teething and ear infections. Whereas the symptoms might seem similar, they are mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, because they are both common first-year health issues, the two are often associated with one another.

Is Your Baby’s Pacifier to Blame?

If your little one loves his pacifier, you might want to rethink the habit, especially as it affects oral and ear health. The Mayo Clinic warns that using a pacifier can increase the chance of both ear infections and dental problems in babies. It’s OK to use a pacifier in the first few months of life, but consider discontinuing its use after your baby’s first teeth start to emerge; a pacifier can eventually cause tooth misalignment.

How Can You Help?

If your baby is pulling at his ears, acting fussy or refusing to sleep and eat regularly, you’ll need to decide whether an infant ear infection or teething is to blame. If you suspect an ear infection (cold-like symptoms are a dead giveaway), contact your pediatrician. Your baby may need antibiotics to help get rid of the infection.

If you’re confident your baby is indeed just teething, you’ll still need to address the pain to help your little one stay comfortable. Try dipping the corner of a washcloth in water, and freezing it to create a simple and effective teething ring. Babies with sore gums can also benefit from dental massage, suggests Mayo Clinic, so grab a soft-bristled infant brush like My First Colgate™ and massage the gums with some water or fluoride-free toothpaste.

In both cases, ibuprofen can be used to reduce swelling and discomfort; just make sure to check the package directions for dosing. Teething and ear infections are common parts of your baby’s first year, though they’re generally unrelated. By working with your pediatrician, you can address both issues for your baby and make for a happy, healthy early childhood.

3. Tonsil stones?

The tonsils – which are globs of lymph tissue in the back of the throat — aren’t exactly smooth and round like gumballs, Kaher said. “Instead, they look like prunes, with crevices where bacteria can accumulate.”

Occasionally, if enough microbes and debris get caught, they can form tonsil stones (or tonsilloliths). Both Kaher and Spiegel said that these can be quite smelly, and can definitely contribute to halitosis.

Tonsil stones can be removed using a device called Waterpik, which squirts pressurized water onto the tonsils. But if tonsils are large enough, and are constantly accumulating stones, they may need to be removed, Spiegel said.

“Sometimes we even have to remove people’s tonsils because their breath was that bad,” Spiegel said.

4. Watch your diet

Foods like garlic and onions can cause bad breath, but not just because their remnants accumulate in your mouth. In the case of garlic, for example, chemicals from the food are taken up by blood cells and expelled through your lungs, Spiegel said.

Thus, your actual breath smells, and not just your mouth. In that case, there’s “nothing you can do except wait it out, mask it with breath mints or mouthwash, or avoid the food,” he said.

5. Check your stomach, see the doctor

If none of the above causes your bad breath, or if bad breath is a persistent problem, it’s a good idea to see your doctor, Spiegel said. In some cases, stomach problems can also cause bad breath.

The main way the stomach can cause bad breath is through acid reflux, a condition in which acid and other contents of your stomach leak up out of the organ, into the esophagus. These can be treated with antacids and other medications, Spiegel said.

Email Douglas Main or follow him on Twitter or Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook or Google+. Article originally on LiveScience.

Can a cavity cause a bad taste in the mouth?

Each of the health issues and medical conditions listed below can cause a persistent bad taste in the mouth.

1. Poor oral hygiene

Poor oral hygiene or dental health issues such as cavities and gum disease, can contribute to a lingering bad taste. Infection, inflammation, and abscesses may also be involved.

Other symptoms of problematic oral hygiene include:

  • bad breath (halitosis)
  • bleeding gums
  • red or swollen mouth tissue
  • sensitive teeth

Brush, floss, and use a mouth rinse every day to prevent dental problems. It is also important to schedule regular dental cleanings and screenings.

2. Dry mouth

A dry or sticky mouth is caused by a lack of saliva. This symptom can accompany a lingering bad taste and bad breath.

Saliva is vital to oral health because it reduces the amount of bacteria and food particles in the mouth.

Dry mouth can be caused by:

  • certain medications
  • tobacco use
  • advancing age

Some medical conditions, including nerve damage and diabetes, can also lead to a lack of saliva.

3. Acid reflux

Acid reflux happens when stomach acid travels upward through the esophagus. A sour taste in the mouth is a common symptom of acid reflux.

Other symptoms include:

  • bad breath
  • chest pain
  • a cough
  • heartburn
  • hoarseness
  • nausea
  • a sore throat
  • vomiting

4. Oral thrush

This infection is caused by an overgrowth of the Candida fungus.

Symptoms include:

  • a bad taste and cottony feeling in the mouth
  • cracking at the corners of the mouth
  • difficulty eating or swallowing
  • irritation or pain under dentures
  • a loss of taste
  • minor bleeding upon contact with the sores
  • redness
  • pain
  • white sores that can resemble cottage cheese, which most often form on the tongue and inner cheeks.

Oral thrush tends to occur in infants, older adults, people with diabetes, and people taking some antibiotics. However, anyone can get oral thrush.

5. Respiratory infections

Infections of the tonsils, sinuses, and middle ear often cause an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth.

People with respiratory infections may also have congestion, an earache, and a sore throat.

6. Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver, and it can cause a bitter taste in the mouth. Other symptoms include:

  • appetite loss
  • bad breath
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Hepatitis B is serious, and anyone who suspects it should seek treatment right away.

7. Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes in early pregnancy can impact the sense of taste and smell. Many report a metallic taste in the mouth, but it usually disappears as the pregnancy progresses.

Hormonal changes linked to menopause may also cause dry mouth, which is often accompanied by a bitter taste.

8. Medications

Medications that can cause a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth include:

  • antibiotics
  • antidepressants
  • anti-inflammatories
  • antihistamines
  • anti-seizure drugs
  • cardiac medications
  • diabetes medications
  • gout medications
  • HIV protease inhibitors
  • oral contraceptives

Other medications may cause dry mouth, which affects the sense of taste.

9. Dietary supplements

Share on PinterestIf the dose of dietary supplements is reduced the metallic taste may disappear.

Vitamins and supplements known to cause a metallic taste in the mouth include:

  • calcium
  • chromium
  • copper
  • iron
  • zinc

Multivitamins and prenatal vitamins may contain some of these nutrients.

The bad taste should disappear as the body processes the supplement or if the dose is reduced.

10. Cancer therapies

Chemotherapy and radiation are known to cause an unpleasant taste in the mouth. The taste is usually metallic or sour.

11. Neurological conditions

When nerves in the brain are damaged, the sense of taste may be altered. Neurological conditions that can cause a bad taste in the mouth include:

  • brain tumors
  • dementia
  • epilepsy

An injury to the head may have a similar effect.

12. Exposure to chemicals

A person exposed to high levels of mercury or lead may inadvertently inhale these chemicals, causing a metallic taste in the mouth.

Top 6 Causes of Ear Ache

1. Earwax Buildup

Earwax buildup is one of the most common complaints when it comes to ear pain. Other ways to know that your earwax is causing your ear ache are symptoms such as a fullness or a plugged-up feeling inside the ear or strange noises in the ear. Earwax buildup usually isn’t a serious problem, and in most cases, you can use over-the-counter medicines, baby oil, or water to soften and clear out your earwax. If you experience a fever, drainage, or hearing loss, you should discuss the issue with your doctor.

2. Changes in Pressure

When you fly on an airplane, the change in pressure that your body experiences can cause dull, temporary ear pain. Some people experience a popping feeling after they get back on the ground, and this usually alleviates the pain. It is typically nothing to worry about, but if you take a trip and continue to experience ear pain 24 hours later, you might want to consider your other symptoms and see if something else could be wrong.

3. Ear Infection

Ear infections are common, especially among children. By the time they turn three years old, three in four children will have had an ear infection. The most common ear infection is that of the otitis media. A doctor can easily diagnose an ear infection. Most of the time, ear infections go away on their own, but a bad infection might require the use of antibiotics. Some children get ear infections so often that they require surgery, but most do not.

4. Foreign Objects

Placing a foreign object inside the ear canal is the most common cause of an ear-related injury. Some people hurt their ears while playing sports or during falls, but in many cases, people place items in their ears such as their fingers or cotton swabs with the intent of clearing them out. Doing this can be painful and can cause varying degrees of damage. If you have a child with an ear ache, it is also possible that soap or shampoo still in their ear from their last bath has caused the pain.

5. Sinus Infection

A sinus infection can also cause ear pain. Other symptoms of a sinus infection include weakness, fatigue, congestion, coughing, sneezing, and fever. The ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, and your sinuses can become packed with mucus as a result of a sinus infection, making your ears feel as uncomfortable as your throat and nose. A sinus infection that lasts more than four weeks could require extra help from a doctor, but if you experience a run-of-the-mill cold, it’s best to use over-the-counter cold medicine, rest, and let it run its course.

6. Tooth Problems

Believe it or not, your teeth could, in fact, be the reason behind your ear ache. An infected tooth or an impacted tooth could cause the pain you feel in your ear. Other signs that your ear ache could be related to a tooth problem are bad breath, a bad taste in the mouth, a swollen gland in the neck, or swollen areas near a tooth in the gums or jaw. If you notice any of these issues in addition to an ear ache, it’s best to visit a dentist and find out how severe your tooth problem may be.

Possible Health Conditions Related to Ear Ache

1. Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome

Temporomandibular joint syndrome, or TMJ, encompasses a host of disorders associated with the muscles and joints that allow you to chew and connect your skull with your jawbone. There are many different reasons why a person might experience a TMJ disorder, such as grinding, having braces, or having a misaligned bite. Arthritis of the jaw is also a type of TMJ disorder. Additional symptoms of this disorder include headache, jaw pain, a locked jaw, and clicking sounds that occur when the jaw opens and closes. Because so many parts of the mouth and face can be affected by a TMJ disorder, it is important to see a doctor about this issue.

2. Perforated Eardrum

A perforated eardrum, also known as a ruptured eardrum, is a tear in the tissue that makes up your eardrum. Hearing loss, ringing in the ear, vertigo, vomiting, and drainage coming from inside your ear are all symptoms of a ruptured eardrum. Most of the time, this condition heals on its own, but it can also be helpful to see a doctor for a confirmed diagnosis. It’s also important to be very careful with your ear during the healing process, as a ruptured eardrum leaves your middle ear vulnerable to injury.

3. Eczema

Some people experience a common skin disorder called eczema, which can cause irritated patches of skin all over the body. Eczema rashes are usually flaky and red, and in many cases, they are also itchy and painful. A person can get eczema on, in, or around their ear as well as in other places on their body. Seborrheic dermatitis is a type of eczema that occurs on the face, scalp, nose, and ears. A doctor can look at your skin and determine whether eczema is the cause of your pain. Eczema cannot be cured, but it can be managed.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Your Ear Ache

  • How long have you dealt with this ear ache?
  • What does the pain feel like? Is it constant, stabbing, mild, severe, etc.?
  • Do certain things make it worse, such as loud noises?
  • Do you use cotton swabs at home?
  • Did you have a cold or the flu recently?

Ear Ache May Also Be Known as

  • Ear pain
  • Sore ears


Ear Infections

Chronic Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections often are caused by a perforated eardrum, mucous membrane disease in the middle ear, and cholesteatoma of the middle ear.

Perforated Eardrum

This eardrum has a small perforation without a middle ear infection. When repairing a perforated eardrum and reconstructing hearing bones in one stage, usually cartilage and its attached tissue are removed from the tragus just in front of the canal. An artificial hearing bone implant is positioned in the middle ear, and the perforation is sealed by the cartilage tissues which also stabilize and protect the implant.

The main indications for surgical repair of holes in the eardrums are hearing loss and middle ear infections. Successful repair often helps hearing and reduces the chance of infection by keeping water and other matter out of the middle ear. Surgery can be performed through the ear canal under sedation if the hole is small and favorably located, or through an incision behind the ear asleep under general anesthesia if the hole is larger or associated with infection. At the same time the hearing bone chain is assessed and corrected if diseased. Success rate of 85-95% varies with the size and location of the perforation and associated infection behind the eardrum. Risk of deafness in the operated ear is less than one percent. Temporary change of taste and numbness on the same side of the tongue occurs in 10-20% of patients if the taste nerve cannot be preserved.

Infected Middle Ear Mucosa

Mucosal infection behind the eardrum usually is related to a perforated eardrum and the diseased membranes are removed at the time the eardrum is repaired.

Surgery for this condition also may require removal of middle ear infection from the mastoid bone behind the ear. A clean, dry, safe ear and hearing improvement can be achieved in 80-90% of cases depending on the extent of the middle ear infection.

Risks are similar to eardrum repair, but change of taste occurs more often and weakness of facial muscles can occur in one percent of patients (usually temporary), especially if infection has exposed the facial nerve in the middle ear.


Cholesteatoma is a skin cyst behind the eardrum. The skin is basically the same as skin anywhere else, except it can destroy bone, deafen hearing and cause infection as the cyst grows. Therefore, cholesteatoma should be removed surgically, often in two stages.

At the first operation, cholesteatoma is removed and the eardrum is repaired. At the second operation hearing is restored. The overall success rate for a clean, dry, safe ear is approximately 85% long-term, and the chance for significant hearing improvement is approximately 80%.

Surgical risks are similar to those for chronic ear infections, but are slightly higher during cholesteatoma because of more extensive bone destruction caused by cholesteatoma.

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