Red Ear Syndrome (RES) is a condition that may be unfamiliar to audiologists but is well known to those who suffer from it. It has its own Facebook page, Red Ear Syndrome (RES) Sufferers Unite!
RES is weird and there is no single treatment for it. Wisegeek describes RES as follows:
“one or both ears become extremely red and hot to the touch, with the appearance of the redness occurring within seconds. In some cases, pain accompanies the redness, with some sufferers reporting that the ears also become tender to the touch.”
What makes the syndrome especially strange is that it is triggered by things we do routinely many times a day, including “chewing food, drinking, coughing, sneezing … turning the neck rapidly in a single direction” or even touching an earlobe. This gives new meaning to the idea of sitting still. Beyond simple head movement, RES is associated with migraine headaches, joint dysfunction, and prolonged periods of stress or anxiety.
A Study Suggests Cause and Effect of Red Ear Syndrome
The cause of RES is unknown, but one study (Raieli et al, 2011) suggests it is related to activation of the trigeminal-autonomic reflex. That reflex is the basis of trigeminal neuralgia as well. The study in children with headaches gives a bit more information about how RES manifests. Statistically, RES was more likely with males and was associated with throbbing headache pain and vomiting. In children with RES, the attacks were on both ears 65% of the time. The attacks lasted less than an hour in many cases, but duration couldn’t or wasn’t determined in many other cases.
RES seems to be common in children with migraine: over 23% of children with migraine had RES, compared to less than 4% of children with non-migraine headaches. The authors suggest that “RES is a very useful clinical marker … and should be used by physicians to diagnose migraine,” at least in children.
Barclay, L. Red Ear Syndrome in Children May Be Highly Specific for Migraine. Medscape Medical News, January 14, 2011.
Raieli V et al. Prevalence of red ear syndrome in juvenile primary headaches. Cephalalgia. 2011 Apr;31(5):597-602. doi: 10.1177/0333102410388437. Epub 2010 Dec 1