Our hearing system is the most important sensory organ. It allows you to perceive sounds, recognize them and navigate in space. Healthy hearing guarantees pleasant communication and proper socialization.
People often experience a variety of hearing problems, including the clogged ear. The unpleasant symptom lasts from a few seconds to several days. The unpleasant sensation can occur on its own or in conjunction with other symptoms such as ringing, pain, or dizziness. What are the causes of ear congestion and how dangerous is it?
Should you worry about a clogged ear?
A clogged ear is a sensation of hearing loss. Congestion alters the perception of one’s own voice and muffles external sounds. In addition, patients note the following symptoms:
feeling of discomfort
painful ear pressure
Many people, faced with this problem, ask important questions. What to do if your ear is blocked? Can an unpleasant feeling go away on its own? How dangerous is this condition and should I see a doctor?
A clogged ear is the first sign that something is wrong in the body. If you ignore such symptom, you can miss the development of a dangerous disease, which can lead to complete or partial deafness and the spread of the inflammatory-infectious process to neighboring tissues. There are also more serious complications. This is why you need to see a doctor if you have a blocked ear. Do not self-medicate!
The main causes of a clogged ear
A clogged ear may appear briefly or persist for a certain period. An unpleasant symptom may disappear and periodically start bothering you again. The duration and frequency of the problem directly depend on the factor, which causes the unpleasant symptom.
There are many internal and external causes of a clogged ear. Dr. Stella Fulman has compiled a list of the most common factors, which contribute to the problem.
It’s the most common cause of clogged ears in humans. Earwax buildup can happen when cleaning the ears, it can also occur arbitrarily. Due to the structure of the ear, the earwax is pushed deep into the ear canal and blocks it. You can accidentally block your ears by using cotton swabs during the cleaning process. If you use hearing aids, headphones, or earplugs, you also increase the risk of earwax buildup.
With earwax buildup, congestion develops gradually in the external ear canal. First, there is a feeling of discomfort and a sensation of a foreign body in the ear, and then hearing deteriorates. Besides, patients report constant irritating ear pressure.
Some patients try to rinse the ear on their own to eliminate discomfort, which only worsens the condition. Therefore, it is best to consult a professional for earwax removal.
Middle ear infections
Quite often сlogged ear feeling comes from infection. The hearing organs are susceptible to various viruses and bacteria, which cause serious complications without proper treatment. Otitis media and many other middle ear infections cause clogged ears and other unpleasant symptoms.
However, it is worth noting that the hearing problem can also occur with the development of a respiratory tract infection. Patients with acute respiratory infections and flu often complain of congestion. What is the reason? Swelling of the mucous membrane of the nasal passages and nasopharynx leads to blockage of the Eustachian tube. This causes the tympanic cavity pressure regulation disruption and is perceived as a clogged ear from an infection on one or both sides.
Meniere’s disease causes a large amount of fluid to build up in the inner ear. The fluid puts pressure on the auditory system. The person experiences ear stuffiness, which leads to poor coordination. Quite often, the disease is accompanied by nausea and vomiting, as well as increased sweating. Infections, head/ear injuries, and inner ear infections cause Meniere’s syndrome. Without the help of a specialist and proper treatment, the problem will not go away, but will only get worse.
When allergens (pollen, dust, animal hair) enter the body, inflammation and swelling of the nasal mucosa occur. Then the Eustachian tube closes (see section “middle ear infections”), which leads to clogged ears.
It is worth noting that the unpleasant symptom is temporary. The congestion disappears after interrupting contact with the allergen and taking antihistamines.
Atmospheric pressure differences
Congestion in both ears is a common symptom, which most people experience on air travel. The unpleasant sensations are associated with the difference in pressure inside and outside the middle ear. The person feels pressure on the eardrums, which is accompanied by hearing loss, murmur, or tinnitus. The same symptoms are observed when jumping into water and diving quickly to great depths. Usually, the discomfort disappears after the pressure readings equalize. But if the congestion persists for a long time, you should consult a doctor.
Various injuries cause isolated damage to one part, or simultaneous damage to several parts of the hearing organ. The most common causes of injury are mechanical, chemical, acoustic, and baro / vibration trauma. These injuries are often accompanied by a feeling of ear congestion.
Noise impact is worth considering separately. Various levels of noise exposure range from simple stuffiness to severe hearing problems. It’s a very urgent problem these days. And it’s not just blue-collar jobs and noisy industries. Modern man actively uses headphones. Their misuse causes many problems, including sensorineural hearing loss.
Sound pressure from loud music, movies, etc. damages the hair cells, which ultimately leads to their death. WHO considers a noise level of no more than 85 dB to be safe. Some earbuds can operate in the 110 to 120 dB range. At this volume level, our hearing can withstand about a minute before it gets damaged.
High blood pressure
An increase in blood pressure above 140/90 mm Hg. Art. may cause clogged ear. With sharp jumps in blood pressure, a headache appears (especially in the occipital region), as well as anxiety, dizziness, shortness of breath, and tinnitus. Ear congestion can result from poor circulation to the inner ear.
Side effects of medications
Yes, this does happen, and not as rare as it might seem at first glance. Clogged ear appears after taking medications to treat bacterial infections for 2 weeks or more. After stopping the medication, unpleasant manifestations most often disappear on their own. Take with caution such groups of treatments as aminoglycoside antibiotics, loop diuretics, psychotropic drugs, and cytostatic.
How to treat a clogged ear?
Experience shows that many people are in no hurry to see a doctor when their ear is clogged. They choose home treatment, thinking that such remedies and methods will help them get rid of the problem. But this rarely happens. Very often, the problem progresses, only complicating the patient’s life and further treatment.
If your ears are constantly blocked, you should analyze in what environment the problem arises, what precedes it, whether there are other accompanying unpleasant sensations. In addition, you can take a free online hearing test, which will allow you to initially assess your hearing.
The following factors are alarming signs and a reason to see a doctor:
clogged ear lasts for a long time
the presence of tinnitus or earache
dizziness and nausea
Treatments for a clogged ear are prescribed for each patient on an individual basis since they directly depend on the factors, which provoked the problem. The doctor can prescribe both individually and jointly the following types of treatment:
Medical therapy is aimed at eliminating the cause of ear congestion. To increase the effectiveness of therapy, several medications are combined that affect different causes of the development of the disorder. This includes antibiotics, anti-inflammatory and antihistamines, and immunomodulators.
Surgical treatment is rarely performed and is used only for infectious disease complications. For example, with massive purulent otitis media, drainage operations are shown, which facilitate the outflow of pus and accelerate the recovery period.
A clogged ear is an uncomfortable feeling, which cannot be simply ignored. Don’t expect it to pass by itself. The problem tells you that it is time to seek help from a doctor. It’s necessary to protect the organs of hearing, which are vulnerable to colds. Systematically carry out preventive measures, perform the timely treatment and then the sounds of the surrounding world will delight you every day!
About Dr Stella Fulman
Dr. Stella Fulman, AU.D., CCC-A received her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Audiology from Brooklyn College in 2004 and her Doctorate of Audiology from Salus University in 2008. [ Learn More ]