Muffled hearing is a result of the inability of sound waves to pass through the inner ear. When there is muffled hearing it feels like there are cotton balls placed in one’s ear. A blocked ear may not lead to the complete loss of hearing, but it can disturb the clarity of hearing and bring about ear pain. There are many factors which can contribute towards a clogged ear. While many times it may be due to temporary and minor reasons, there are other conditions which need medical attention to protect one’s sense of hearing. Dr. Annabelle Leong is a specialist in ear, nose and throat conditions that can help in identifying underlying causes of hearing loss.
The top 4 reasons to have a blocked ear includes:
Discomfort in the ears are commonly brought about due to a blocked ear. This can affect the health and well-being of an individual. A blocked ear along with ear pain can occur from the back of the nose where the Eustachian tube is present. Causes include:
- Ear infections in the eardrum and outer ear skin
- Impacted earwax
- Sinus and nasal infections
- Eustachian pressure tube problems
Infections in the eardrum are painful and are usually accompanied with fever and malaise. Some ear drum infections lead to ear discharge and cause the ear drum to rupture and swelling release the infected fluid which has accumulated in the ear drum. Antibiotics are generally recommended to relieve the symptoms. Outer ear infections when left untreated can lead to complex fungal infections especially in warm humid weather. A consultation by an ENT doctor can help to remove the outer ear infection completely.
Impacted wax is the most common cause of a blocked ear. Ear wax contains natural oils which can protect the ear canal skin, but people who have narrow auditory canals tend to produce a higher amount of wax than normal. The accumulated ear wax can cause a temporary loss of hearing. This ear wax can be removed through a special procedure called micro-suctioning done using a microscope.
Sinus infections can also cause a build-up of purulent discharge behind the nose causing it to drain into the ear via the Eustachian tube. Effective sinus medications can help to relieve sinus infections which can relieve symptoms of a blocked ear too. A CT sinus scan can help to understand the sinus infections better which can help in clearing the trapped infected secretions within the sinuses.
Persistent discomfort and a blocked ear may be due to a mal-functioning Eustachian tube. This can lead to Eustachian pressure tube problems causing one to go through popping noises in the ear and ear ache. Such mal-functioning may be as a result of the sinus infections with residual inflammation. A consultation with an otolaryngologist will help to check the postnasal space with an endoscope to review that the mal-functioning of the Eustachian tube. This helps to review if there is a tumour caused by nasopharyngeal cancer. The ENT specialist will try to relieve the Eustachian dysfunction using nasal decongestants, antibiotics and antihistamines. If these treatment methods are not working then a grommet may be fixed to ease the condition.
What are the signs of hearing loss?
Generally, when people grow older, they can show signs of hearing loss. Age related hearing problems can be quite subtle too. Loss of hearing can cause people to be depressed, isolated and have memory problems. Some of the things which show that one is having hearing loss is:
- Voices show no clarity and there is sound muffled: It is the inner ear organs which assist one to detect high pitched sounds and this generally is the one to fail first as well. This makes it hard to hear voices which are high pitched.
- Unable to follow conversations in noisy places: One of the early signs of hearing loss is being unable to follow conversations with peers when one is at a mall or a restaurant. Letters in speech such as ‘f’ and ‘s’ may not be heard well. Ignoring the background noise will be difficult due to loss of hearing.
- Being exhausted after social events: When one has hearing loss, attending social events can be exhausting. Focusing on what people are speaking in a group would be difficult when more than one person is talking.
- Relying on lip movement rather than eye contact: When the ears are not functioning well, hearing sounds are not at the optimal level. Due to this, the brain tries to use the sense of eyesight to help out. Looking at lip movements to understand sounds such as ‘f’ and ‘p’ may help to understand what the speaker is saying.
- Clogged Ears: When sounds seem dull, it could be due to a fluid build-up and this should be evaluated by an ENT doctor.
- Having to increase the volume of the TV: When one is not able to listen to the television at normal sounds, then it could be due to a hearing loss. Television shows generally have mixed dialogues and when there is loss of hearing, it can drown parts of the speech. If family members mention that the television is too loud then it is time to have your ears checked.