Ear pressure can occur in everyday situations and often has benign causes. However, prolonged ear pressure may indicate poor ventilation of the ear or underlying health problems. In this article, you will learn more about the most common symptoms, causes and treatments for ear pressure.
Clogged ears, blocked ears or plugged ears typically indicate a subjective sensation of ear fullness that affects one or both ears. This frequent symptom is often associated with an alteration or even a reduction in hearing ability. It is important to specify that pressure in the ears and hearing loss are different, even if they can coexist in numerous diseases. The most common symptoms of ear pressure are:
If ear pressure symptoms persist for an extended period and cannot be relieved by swallowing or yawning, it could indicate an ear pressure imbalance or inflammation. In such cases, you should visit your physician or a hearing care specialist for an examination.
The sensation of pressure in one or both ears can be caused by problems in the outer and middle ear. Below you will find the most common ear pressure causes:
For many, one of the first signs of a cold is the sensation your ear is closing. If the reason for the pressure on the ears is a cold, the doctor usually recommends using a decongestant or a nasal spray to keep the Eustachian tube open and clear.
Ear pressure in the case of a cold arises primarily from the middle ear not being adequately ventilated. Only then do viruses and bacteria have the opportunity to trigger otitis media. Mucus can get stuck inside the Eustachian tube, and mucus mobilization noises can sometimes be heard when moving the head (Ex. when resting your head on the pillow, chewing or yawning). That's why it's important to keep your ears clean when you have a cold.
In addition to the decongestant or nasal spray, exhalation or blowing your nose also helps activate mucus drainage and reduce pressure in the ear when you have a cold.
Otitis media, Eustachian tube dysfunction, nasal obstruction due to nasal septum deviation, enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids and turbinate hypertrophy can cause the sensation of ear pressure. A change in how the Eustachian tube functions can alter the correct ventilation of the middle ear leading to difficulty in compensating for any sudden changes in pressure between the two surfaces of the eardrum.
Therapy aims to maintain the correct ventilation in the middle ear. One example of this would be the use of medications to reduce the swelling causing the infection causing the problem. Another potential treatment is surgical correction of the nasal septum.
Among the factors responsible for the sensation of pressure in the ears is otitis externa, an acute or chronic inflammation of the ear canal, also called swimmer's ear. This condition is from the presence of water stagnation in the ears.
This disorder often manifests with skin inflammation, redness, irritation, swelling and eczema. Symptoms are:
The effects of otitis externa may be treated by antibiotic or antifungal therapy if it has a bacterial origin. Furthermore, cleaning the ear canal and applying the drug therapy is very important.
The sensation of fullness in the ears and the difficulty in compensating for slight changes in atmospheric pressure is a problem typically associated with TMJ, caused by poor ventilation inside the ear through the pharyngeal tube.
Typically, the pharyngeal tube opens during swallowing to ventilate the middle ear and to facilitate the release of inflammatory secretions that affect the ear. Both conditions of constant and chronic opening and closing obstacles to the air passage are considered pathological. The walls of the tube (or Eustachian tube), muscle, and mucous membranes collapse easily, preventing air from passing and balancing the atmospheric pressure between the two sides of the eardrum. This condition causes the ear to feel full and clogged, with muffled hearing. The specific treatment for TMJ involves the use of bite interventions and physiotherapy
If the ear is blocked, muffled or plugged, the easiest techniques that can help unblock it are:
When we go through a tunnel by train, take off, and land by plane, we often feel a strong pressure in our ears. Usually, this pressure is just uncomfortable but not dangerous. However, what exactly happens in the ear in these situations?
Deep in the ear canal is the eardrum. It is elastic, transmits sound vibrations to the sensitive organs of the middle and inner ear, and closes the ear tightly. If the air pressure changes, the eardrum can swell due to overpressure or under-pressure in the ear, giving the classic sensation of a full ear.
In this case, it is necessary to equalize the pressure in the ear. This is done by balancing the air through the Eustachian tube. There are various methods of achieving pressure equalization, which work differently.
A quick swallow or yawn will usually pop the ears and ease the airplane ear pressure discomfort. Popping is one of the most effective airplane ear treatments. If that’s not enough, here are some other airplane ear pain treatments:
If there is pressure on the ears, home remedies help to clean the ear. If the ears are closed, this is usually due to too much earwax, a cold or an inflamed ear canal. Those affected can rinse their ears with lukewarm salt water.
A steam bath with chamomile also releases ear pressure. In case of an ear canal infection, drinking chamomile tea and applying a warm compress to the ear may help as a home remedy for blocked ears.
Before using any home remedies, consult with a physician or hearing care professional to learn if the method would be effective in treating your symptoms.
When fluid accumulates, or pressure imbalances occur in the ear, it is often due to illnesses like the common cold that can cause inflammation of the mucous membranes or swelling in the ear, nose, and throat areas responsible for regulating air pressure - such as the auditory tube.
Allergic reactions can also lead to swelling and pressure in the ears, and treating the underlying condition with medication is recommended in such cases. Depending on the cause, decongestants, nasal sprays, antibiotics, or antiallergic agents may be useful.
If ear pressure persists despite attempts to relieve it through chewing or similar techniques, see a doctor to identify and treat the underlying cause. In the simplest case, it could be due to earwax buildup in the ear canal, which can be removed by a doctor through a simple ear irrigation procedure.
When fluid buildup in the middle ear causes pressure on the eardrum and prevents drainage, minor surgery may be needed for long-term relief. This typically involves piercing the eardrum to allow fluid to escape through a small opening.
In cases where this problem occurs frequently, a tympanostomy tube may be inserted into the eardrum to assist in the ventilation of the middle ear and allow fluids to drain more effectively.
Migraines often present themselves as more than a headache and include hearing symptoms like ear pressure and tinnitus. A sinus headache can also cause ear pressure. If you have constant migraine and ear pressure, consult your doctor, ENT specialist, or neurologist.
A plugged ear could be caused by a simple excess of earwax, by specific pathologies of interest to the otorhinolaryngologist such as otitis, or something else that goes beyond the scope of "only" headache. Other common symptoms of migraine ear pressure can be:
Preventive measures vary depending on the cause of the ear pressure. Common habits to prevent ear pressure are: