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Mouth Diseases

Ear and eye pain associated with canker sore

10/26/2007

Question:

I have a rather large canker sore on the right side of my tongue. As with any canker sore it is rather painful. My lymph node on that side is slightly swollen and the ear and eye on my right side also hurt. Is this something that usually occurs with a canker sore? I have had canker sores off and on my entire life. The current situation happened once before and as you can probably tell it is very painful and disconcerting. Is this happening because the nerve on the right side is effected by the canker sore or is the lymph node pressing on the nerve? What can I do to relieve these symptoms?

Answer:

What you are describing could represent referred pain, a condition where discomfort from one area (large canker sore) is transferred to the nerve fibers that serve other sites (in your case the eye and ear on the same side). In an anatomically complex area like the head and neck, several nerves that do many different jobs are located quite close to one another. The intense irritation of the nerves that directly connect to your tongue can disrupt the normal tone and function of nearby (but functionally distinct) nerve fibers as well, hence the term “referred” pain.

The swelling and tenderness of your lymph node, although directly related to the canker sore and its inflammation, would not be a likely suspect with regard to your eye or ear symptoms because it (at least usually) is located at some distance from their particular nerve fibers.

Additional information about canker sores (recurrent aphthous stomatitis) will be linked to this answer. For you at this point, over-the-counter covering agents (such as Zilactin or equivalent commercial products) will provide some relief together with regular analgesics and anti-inflammatory agents such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

Good luck!

Related Resources:

Recurrent Aphthous Ulcerations ("Canker Sores")

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Response by:

John R Kalmar, DMD, PhD John R Kalmar, DMD, PhD
Clinical Professor of Pathology
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University