Several conditions can cause clogged and ringing ears. Some result in temporarily clogged ears, but others may cause permanent hearing problems. If the symptoms are persistent, a person should see a doctor.
In this article, we discuss the possible causes of clogged and ringing ears. We also discuss what a person can do when this happens.
Earwax, also called cerumen, is a substance that the ears produce to protect against ear infections and provide a physical barrier against water and bugs.
Typically, the body removes earwax through a self-cleaning mechanism, but sometimes, this mechanism fails, and earwax accumulates.
People with too much earwax may experience the following symptoms:
- ear discomfort
- hearing loss
- ringing in the ears
- ear fullness
Some people may also develop a cough or notice an odor from earwax impaction.
People most at risk for earwax impaction include:
- people with a history of impaction
- older adults
- people with cognitive impairment
- hearing aids and earplugs
Hearing aids and earplugs can disturb the natural self-cleaning mechanism of the ears. These foreign objects can stimulate the production of earwax.
It is important to note that it is not always a good idea to remove earwax. Earwax has
The clinical practice guidelines for cerumen impaction recommend the following three methods for earwax removal:
- Irrigation: Irrigation involves flushing out earwax with a jet of warm water. Ear irrigation is safe and effective, but there is a small risk of perforating the eardrum.
- Cerumenolytic agents: These agents loosen and disperse earwax and reduce the need for irrigation or manual removal with instrumentation. Often, doctors will use cerumenolytic agents along with irrigation or manual removal.
- Manual removal: A doctor can use tools, such as probes, hooks, forceps, and microsuction, to extract the wax.
The eustachian tube in the ear is a narrow tube that connects the nose and the ear.
The function of the eustachian tube includes:
- protecting the middle ear from infections
- ventilating the middle ear
- draining secretions from the middle ear
When the eustachian tube is not functioning correctly, people may develop eustachian tube dysfunction.
A person with eustachian tube dysfunction may experience:
- muffled hearing
- ringing in the ear
- reduced hearing
- a feeling of fullness in the ear
- problems with balance
Doctors have not yet determined the exact cause of eustachian tube dysfunction.
Some suggest that an allergic reaction or infection can cause the lining of the eustachian tube to swell. In some situations, nasal septum deviation can lead to eustachian tube dysfunction.
Other doctors have reported that the muscles that control the opening and closing of the eustachian tube fail to contract and relax.
People with tumors or trauma may also develop eustachian tube dysfunction.
Symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction are mild and resolve without intervention after a
Some people may experience persistent symptoms, although severe dysfunction may require surgery.
People with sinus pressure may experience a blocked nose or clogged or ringing ears.
Sinusitis is a common cause of increased sinus pressure. Some people may develop chronic sinusitis.
As well as a blocked nose and clogged or ringing ears, some people may also experience:
- reduced sense of smell
- facial pressure
- pain and tenderness in the face
- runny nose
- postnasal drip
- toothache (typically upper teeth)
People usually get sinusitis from viral infections of the nasal passages. Sometimes, however, bacteria can lead to an infection. Other causes of sinusitis include:
- nonallergic inflammation of the nasal passages
- anatomical abnormalities
- cigarette smoking
- swimming, diving, high altitude mountain climbing
- dental infections and procedures
However, people who experience severe symptoms or symptoms that do not go away should see a doctor, as sometimes medication is necessary.
Airplane ear refers to the discomfort that some people may feel when the plane is ascending or descending.
Some people may experience severe earaches.
Airplane ear may occur in one or both ears. The severity of earache varies from person to person. Some may also experience decreased hearing abilities or muffled sounds.
Other symptoms may include:
- fullness in the ear
- ringing in the ears
- blood in the middle ear
People get airplane ear when there are quick changes in altitude and air pressure.
When the air pressure changes rapidly, it may cause the tympanic membrane to bulge outwards or pull inside, which causes pain in the middle ear.
Doctors suggest the following preventative measures for airplane ear:
- yawning, chewing gum, swallowing
- avoiding sleeping during ascent and descent
- avoiding air travel with a cold, sinus infection, nasal congestion, recent ear infection, or recent ear surgery
- using earplugs
- using decongestants
Doctors call ear infections otitis. It is most common amongst infants aged
People with ear infections may experience:
- ear pain
- disturbed sleep or restless sleep
- loss of appetite
- low-grade fever
Pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, or a combination of both, can cause ear infections. Some ear infections may be due to allergens and other environmental factors. Other causes or associated factors may include:
- anatomical abnormalities
- hearing implants
- vitamin A deficiency
- lack of breastfeeding
- smoke exposure
- daycare attendance
Treatment typically includes antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), or acetaminophen.
Meniere’s disease is a condition that affects the inner ear. People with the beginning stages of Meniere’s disease and hearing loss may feel like their ears are clogged.
Meniere’s disease can have a significant effect on a person’s social functioning.
People with Meniere’s disease may experience hearing loss, ringing in the ears, and vertigo.
The diagnostic criteria for Meniere’s disease
- two or more episodes of vertigo lasting 20 minutes to 12 hours.
- low to medium frequency hearing loss during or after an episode of vertigo.
- ear fullness or ringing in the ears.
Some researchers propose that certain genetic and environmental factors may contribute to Meniere’s disease.
No cure exists for Meniere’s disease, but doctors may recommend some treatments to help people cope with the symptoms of the condition.
Some treatments for Meniere’s disease include:
- lifestyle changes including diet
- medications such as motion sickness drugs
An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that develops on the nerves that control hearing and balance. These nerves connect structures in the ear and brain.
As the tumor grows, it can press against the nerves and affect hearing and balance. These tumors usually grow slowly, but they can become large.
At first, people may not notice any symptoms.
Symptoms of acoustic neuroma may include:
- loss of hearing on the affected side
- ringing in the ear
- dizziness and balance problems
- numbness or paralysis of the face
If the tumor becomes larger, it can press against structures in the brain. Depending on the affected brain structure, this can be life-threatening.
Scientists believe that people may develop acoustic neuromas from an overproduction of Schwann cells. Schwann cells wrap around nerve cells to protect, support, and insulate nerves.
Typically, acoustic neuromas occur on one side, but bilateral acoustic neuromas may occur. These bilateral tumors arise from a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis type 2.
Researchers also suggest that both unilateral and bilateral tumors occur from the loss of function of genes on chromosome 22. This gene controls the growth of Schwann cells.
Small tumors may not require surgery. Doctors may suggest frequent monitoring of the tumor. Some people may require surgery or radiation to remove the tumor.
When diagnosing conditions involving the ear, doctors may need to look inside the ear to check for fluid or inflammation. Other conditions may require a hearing test to evaluate hearing loss.
Doctors may sometimes need to look into the nose since the nose and sinuses are connected to the ear.
Some people may require medical imaging, such as those with suspected acoustic neuroma.
Doctors will collect information about symptoms and evaluate clinical exams and medical images to help diagnose clogged or ringing ears since several conditions can cause these symptoms.
People who feel that they have an ear or sinus infection should seek medical attention. Doctors may not always give antibiotics for infections but may offer other supportive treatments, such as nasal rinses.
Anyone with bleeding, severe pain, hearing loss, or numbness in the face should seek medical attention immediately.
As mentioned, people should not attempt to remove ear wax. They should consult with a doctor for advice on whether the buildup needs removal. Doctors can remove earwax using proper cleaning techniques.
Although there is no cure for Meniere’s disease yet, people may consult a doctor if the condition affects their daily activities. Doctors may suggest treatments that may help.
Many different conditions can cause clogged or ringing ears. Some conditions may cause temporarily clogged ears, like airplane ear or infections, but chronic inflammation and tumors may cause permanent hearing problems.
If someone has clogged or ringing ears, they should speak with a doctor to determine its cause. Doctors will ask about symptoms, conduct clinical exams, and may request medical imaging.
People who have clogged ears should avoid trying to clear earwax. People who have a buildup of earwax should consult with a doctor.