Help me help my father!
July 20, 2006 7:04 PM   Subscribe

Please, please help. For the past two years my father has been suffering from these weird red ear episodes, which no one can seem to explain.

It always happens in only the right ear, and lasts for as long as two or three hours. Being in direct sunlight seems to aggravate it, and so my father has taken to wearing ridiculous hats outside just to avoid the pain. And thats the thing, he describes it as very painful, enough so that a "change" comes over him during these episodes (more distant/spacey, emotional etc.)

I have tried google with very minimal luck. I found a very small amount of info on something called red ear syndrome, but all of the symptoms on these sites dont seem to match my fathers condition.

He has seen a few doctors (he works in the medical field) but has come up short with any answers. For a while polychondritis was mentioned (, but I think this was to be ruled out. I say think, as my father rarely discusses this stuff, but this is what I gather from my mother. Plus it has been around 2 years now with none of the other symptoms... What is this? Can it be treated?

Any help would be appreciated.
posted by rosswald to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
so-called Red Ear Syndrome seems to correlate with migraine which would make sense given your father's light-sensitivity and dissociated state.
posted by unSane at 7:15 PM on July 20, 2006

I immediately thought of Raynaud's syndrome, but his doctor probably would of probably been able to diagnose this. Good luck with your dad.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:15 PM on July 20, 2006

Sounds like the migraines I got when I lived in SoCal I got them from bright sunlight, they often only lasted a couple hours and sometimes they made my ears really hot. One doctor called them cluster headaches and one said they weren't so who knows. The personality change sounds right too, migraines make most people pretty moody before and after and sometimes you get almost euphoric.

If he's like me he's wearing a hat he's taken Important Step Number One in my world. Important Step Number Two is to never, ever go outside at midday without dark sunglasses.
posted by fshgrl at 7:24 PM on July 20, 2006

Thanks for your answers.

The stuff about the headcaches kind of make sense, is it possible for a person to have a headche and not realize they have it?? Lke a migrain the occurs in a localized part of the brain?

He hasnt mentioned any kind of headache so far...His right ear just gets bright red and hot to the touch, and his mood does become kind of "dissociated."

Sometimes deep masages of his upper back/shoulder help relieve some of the tension in his shoulder (which is tense), and also seem (as in sometimes) to help relieve the ear symptoms. Still I dont know if that makes it a muscle related problem, or he just gets relief from the amount of seratonin (sp) release from the massage.

What is this?
posted by rosswald at 7:51 PM on July 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think the whole migraine world is quite diffuse and, at the edges, ill-defined. I've had what I consider migraines (even though I don't think of myself as a migraine sufferer) which have included nausea and light sensitivity but no headache. There is also a strong connection between migraine and epilepsy.

The neck/shoulder massage may have some relation to the supposed relation between jaw tension (ill fitting dentures/misaligned teeth) and migraines.

The two classical triggers for migraine are food and weather so paying attention to these is an obvious avoidance tactic.

On the other hand 2-3 hours is very short for a migraine.
posted by unSane at 8:15 PM on July 20, 2006

yes, you can have migraine without actual headache

it is called "migraine equivalent"

one can suffer from nausea, mood change, photophobia and other visual changes, etc but no headache
posted by subatomiczoo at 8:22 PM on July 20, 2006

The stuff about the migraines is definitely interesting, I'd unfortunately never considered that.

I had always gottent the impression (though ufortunately never asked) that when the sunlight would trigger the episode, it would be due to sunlight directly hitting his ear. Can that trigger a migraine? I thought the light had to actually hit the eye to trigger a migraine.

And your right unsane, that 2-3 hours is short for a migraine. And the attacks seem to occur randomly(periods of no problems, then a period of attacks) though his schedule on average doesn't change that much.

Maybe the muscle/jaw thing is close? Maybe it is a some kind of migraine?

These are all great suggestions, thanks.
posted by rosswald at 9:22 PM on July 20, 2006

Migraines are often associated with muscleur tension and Botox is one treatment for them. I don't know about the ear thing specifically but my migraines always manifest as pain in my eye or the skin on my temple rather than the inside of my head (where I'm fairly sure they're actually located??)

He could have some kind of heat related nerve pain or something weird like that so the migraine/ cluster headache theory should be reasonably easy to check by taking Imitrex or other widely effective migraine drugs and seeing if they work at all.
posted by fshgrl at 9:27 PM on July 20, 2006

A Most Excellent Book
posted by polyglot at 9:35 PM on July 20, 2006

Nerves in your head are wired just plain funny. As a migraineur, I completely buy that a migraine could present as pain in the ear. The same way that labor sometimes presents as back pain.

There are lots of causes of migraines, but a non-invasive one that is a classic, and surprisingly effective is ice. I do take Imitrex and get great results from it - but if its too soon to take another dose, I get great results with ice. I apply it to wherever the pain is, as well as the base of my neck. Old fashioned icebags are the best..they stay in place beautifully and keep you dry.

While I'd encourage you to pursue having this traeted as a migraine - you can easily pursue classic migraine treatments till then.

During a headache, migraineurs always want coolness, quiet, darkness and stillness. Taking to bed in a dark room with an ice pack is absolutely worth a try.
posted by AuntLisa at 10:23 AM on July 21, 2006

The stuff about the cold is definitely true..

My father is always taking his ice-filled soda glasses and puts them on his ear, which seems to relieve the pain and quiet the symptoms.

I hope that this is a good start, thanks everyone! I will definitely keep researching, and hopefully this will help provide an answer.
posted by rosswald at 10:30 AM on July 21, 2006

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