What is Red Ear Syndrome?

Red ear syndrome, or RES, is a very rare disorder. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, there are roughly 100 published cases of red ear syndrome in the medical literature.

Red ear syndrome was first described in 1994, and in 1996 was further characterized. As the name may imply, RES causes your earlobes to go bright red. In addition, it causes a burning sensation.

Types of Red Ear Syndrome

Although there is still much to learn about red ear syndrome, we do know that there are two main types. These are:

Primary red ear syndrome - Primary RES is the most common form of this disorder. This type of RES is more likely to affect children, teenagers and / or young adults. 80% of people with primary red ear syndrome report a history of migraines.

Secondary red ear syndrome - Secondary RES is more commonly seen in women and older people. It has been linked to upper spine problems, cluster headaches and TMJD.

Symptoms of Red Ear Syndrome

The most common symptom of red ear syndrome is a red earlobe that burns. RES most commonly affects only one ear. In rarer cases, it may affect both ears.

According to an article published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “the vast majority of RES patients, redness and warmth of the ear are the only associated symptoms.”

Less common, but other reported symptoms include swelling of the ear, or aural fullness.

What Causes Red Ear Syndrome?

It is still unknown what causes red ear syndrome. Doctors believe that it may be related to a group of disorders known as trigeminal autonomic cephalgias. This group of disorders includes cluster headaches.

People with RES may experience a spontaneous attack, or the RES may be triggered. While the causes of RES are still unclear, common triggers include:

  • Heat
  • Rubbing the ear
  • Exercise
  • Neck movement

Less frequently reported triggers can include:

  • Brushing your hair
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Chewing
  • Showering
  • Lightly touching the ear

Stopping a red ear attack is, unfortunately, not currently possibly. For most people with RES, lifestyle modifications help to manage the attacks. However, what works for one person with RES may not work for another.

Medication used to help treat migraines are often the best options. Some people claim that ice packs help to offer relief.

If you suspect that you have red ear syndrome, we recommend speaking to your general health practitioner. Lifestyle and dietary modifications may help to lessen the frequency or severity of attacks.

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