Have you ever felt a strange sense of fullness in your ear? That feeling that your ears are clogged, stuffy or congested and even yawning, swallowing doesn’t relieve the block. You may experience muffled or slightly impaired hearing as a result.
Many people experience this feeling at some point in their lives. It can be quite discomforting, and it’s not always easy to figure out what is causing it. Let’s discuss the various causes of fullness in the ear, as well as how to treat it. And perhaps this information will help you find relief from this annoying sensation!
Why do you feel pressure in your ears?
Earwax is produced by glands in the skin of your outer ear canal. The small hair and wax in the canal trap dust and other materials that could damage parts of your ear, such as your eardrum. For most, a small amount of earwax regularly makes its way to the entrance to the ear canal. There, it dries up and falls out. However, if your ear canal produces excess wax, or your canal is shaped such that the wax doesn’t clear itself, it can accumulate and block your ear canal. When a person tries to get earwax out of their ear by using q-tips or other items in their ears, they just push wax deeper into the ear, rather than removing it.
It is important to have any excess wax gently removed by a professional so that it does not cause further problems with hearing or balance issues.
Fluid in the ear
The feeling of fullness in your ear can also be caused by a fluid buildup due to allergies or a deviated septum. It can also occur due to a cold, sinusitis, or even allergies. This usually resolves after a few days, but we want to make sure to rule out any serious infection, such as:
- Chronic ear infections
- Permanent hearing loss
Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications.
Acute otitis externa, also known as external ear infection or earache, is an inflammation of the ears caused by excessive moisture in the inner ear space. This can occur due to fluid accumulation from direct exposure to weather conditions, poor ventilation, or both.
One of the most common causes of ear problems is poor hygiene or infection in your mouth. If you suffer from chronic ear infections, it may be due to oral infections that are making their way up through your body.
Bacteria in your mouth can spread directly into your ears. When this happens, the fluid in your ear becomes infected, and swelling and pain occur.
Some risk factors include: bad teeth caused by lack of brushing or chewing, smoking which damages mucus membranes, and using alcohol or illicit drugs, which can have harmful effects on the immune system.
Fullness in the ear can also be caused by sinus pressure. When your sinuses become congested due to a cold or allergies, it can cause fullness in your ears due to increased pressure on them. This fullness can make it difficult to hear and may even cause pain. In cases of severe sinus congestion and fullness, you may need to see a doctor who can prescribe medication that will help open up the nasal passages and reduce the fullness in your ears.
Noise exposure can also make your ears feel full. Constant exposure to loud noise can cause fullness in the ear and can even lead to hearing damage if not addressed properly. If you find that you are regularly exposed to loud noises, it is important to take steps to protect your ears. This may include wearing ear protection when attending loud events or listening to music at a low volume.
Additionally, it is important to note that fullness can also be experienced in your ears due to altitude change. Changes in altitude can cause fullness as air pressure changes and the eustachian tubes struggle to equalize pressure between them and the outside environment.
If your ear pressure is different from the air pressure outside your body for extended periods of time, severe damage to your eardrum can result. This type of damage is called barotrauma. Those who scuba dive, fly regularly, and drive or hike at high altitudes are more likely to experience this and may experience dizziness, pain, and ear pressure or fullness. It can also cause ruptured eardrum, nosebleeds, and hearing loss. In most cases, symptoms will resolve on their own; however, if serious damage is caused, corrective surgery might be needed.
Other less common causes of ear fullness
Anxiety can also be a cause of fullness in the ears. Anxiety can lead to fullness due to increased muscle tension and tightness in the neck, head, and jaw. If you suspect that anxiety may be causing fullness in your ear, it is important to seek medical advice from a mental health professional or therapist who can help you learn coping mechanisms for managing your stress levels.
Fullness in the ear can also be caused by Meniere’s disease. This condition is believed to occur when there is an imbalance of fluid pressure in the inner ear which causes fullness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and hearing loss. Meniere’s disease can cause extreme fullness and discomfort, so it is important to see a doctor if you suspect that this may be the cause of fullness in your ear.
Traumatic brain injury or concussion
Fullness in the ear can be caused by a traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries can affect various parts of the body, including the inner ear. A traumatic brain injury can cause fullness and dizziness due to the disruption of fluid pressure levels in the inner ear. If you suspect that fullness in your ear is being caused by a traumatic brain injury, it is important to seek medical advice from a doctor who can assess any damage or other associated issues with this condition
How do I know if I’ve ruptured an eardrum?
Fullness in the ear can be caused by a ruptured eardrum. A ruptured eardrum is when there is a hole or tear in the thin membrane that separates your middle and inner ear. Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include fullness or pain in the ear, hearing issues, and drainage from the ear canal.
What other symptoms might occur with ear fullness?
Besides the feeling of fullness and congestion, other symptoms may occur with ear fullness.
- Warmth or swelling
- Pain around the ear
- Flu-like symptoms, such as sore throat, cough, aches, headaches
- Secretions draining from the ear
When to see a doctor
For the most part, ear fullness is a result of congestion due to the common cold. Usually, this will resolve with over the counter medication. But, certain symptoms may indicate more serious problems. Those experiencing ear fullness accompanied by a fever over 101 degrees F, severe pain, swelling and redness around the ear, hearing loss, dizziness or loss of coordination, or drainage of pus from the ear for three days or more should seek immediate medical care. It could be caused by anything from environmental conditions to an infection or even a traumatic brain injury. Whatever the cause may be, it is best to seek medical advice so that you can get the appropriate treatment and prevent any further issues.
Treatment for Ear Fullness
People can often treat ear congestion with home remedies and OTC medications.
If you experience fullness while flying or traveling up a mountain, make sure you take steps to help equalize your ear pressure with chewing gum or drinking water.
You can also try the Valsalva Maneuver. First, take a deep breath and try to blow the air out of your nose gently while pinching your nostrils closed and keep your mouth shut. If you hear a popping noise, you know you have succeeded. Options such as nasal decongestants, topical nasal steroids, and in severe cases, ventilation tubes to drain fluid are also used to relieve pressure.
No matter what the cause of fullness in your ear may be, it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible so that you can find relief from any discomfort that you may be experiencing. We hope that this information has been helpful and we wish you all the best on finding relief!