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November 2, 2010 2:39 PM   Subscribe

YANMD: Ear crinkling sounds, teeth grinding, and more fun.

So, recently a few small health nuisances have combined and left me with unsatisfactory health.
  • I very clearly grind my teeth at night
  • My right ear makes a noise like crinkling when moved or when my jaw moves
  • I'm getting headaches more often
  • I had a cold or a flu for the past week or so
It's clear that number one and three are connected, and that number one is treatable - I just finished the second night of sleeping with a mouthguard, something that's unpleasant but I'm sure needed.

Number two is more annoying: I've had this for about three or four days, and it's very noticeable and just starting to get intolerable. Is there anything that I can do about this? I'm trying to get a doctors appointment, but also trying to drop my horrible, horrible, horrible, unresponsive, no-website-payment CareFirst BlueChoice 'health insurance' for something, anything else that operates vaguely like a mature company (in DC?). But is this the kind of thing where I'll definitely need to see a specialist anyway? Obviously I'm pretty scared of the possibility that this could be some irreversible or doom-indicating symptom. Besides the flu/cold, I haven't had any weird head trauma or had any loud noises around recently, but I have been blowing my nose and sneezing (yes, the 'not letting it out' technique that I've stopped since), more.

So, yeah, whaaa?
posted by tmcw to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The crinkling noise may be wax build up or moisture. It could also be related to your having a cold/flu. And headaches? It may be that you are having sinus headaches and infections. Make the appointment to go in to the dr and go from there.

posted by 6:1 at 2:42 PM on November 2, 2010

90% sure it's wax build up, get a doctor to clean it.

If the teeth grinding keeps up you might end up with TMJ, though, so try to work on that.
posted by empath at 2:50 PM on November 2, 2010

IANAD either, but I remember being driven crazy by the crinkling noise when I was probably around high school age. I never found out what it was, but eventually it just stopped, with no after effects. That was 30+ years ago, so I'm reasonably certain that nothing's likely to turn up now.

Although it was right around that time that I started to see the polka dancing, lime green spotted piglets on my ceiling every night... Nah, seriously, don't stress yourself out about it. See a doctor if you need to reassure yourself, but it's most likely nothing major.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:51 PM on November 2, 2010

It may be related to #1; I have TMJ, which is probably what the mouthguard is supposed to treat/prevent, and occasionally my jaw makes fun "crinkling" noises that seem to come up through my ear. (I let mine go way too long; one day my jaw just froze, and it still doesn't open as wide as it used to.) Anecdotally, it does seem to be more pronounced after I restart wearing my mouthguard after a break (like if I have a cold, I can't sleep well then), so your jaw may be getting accustomed to its new position.
posted by epersonae at 2:58 PM on November 2, 2010

Response by poster: epersonae: thanks, I'm pretty sure that it's ear-centered - like if I waggle my ear with my hand, the crinkling is very pronounced?
posted by tmcw at 3:01 PM on November 2, 2010

I agree that it's not waxy build up - I get that when I seem to have sort of rolled my jaw a little (for lack of better description, I liken it to rolling ones ankle. Doesn't hurt, exactly, but you know it's not a good thing) and I take quite good care of my ears, thank you.
posted by maryr at 3:03 PM on November 2, 2010

You didn't indicate that you were taking any medications, but I have been told that certain drugs, Prozac being one example, can have the side effect of tightening the jaw muscles.

I was told that the obvious reflex: continuously working the jaw to loosen the muscles is massively counterproductive, as it can cause inflammation and infection.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 3:09 PM on November 2, 2010

I had a little teeth-grinding habit when I was in college. Eventually, anytime I opened / rotated my lower jaw I would get that crackling in my ear. Eventually, I also developed serious tension headaches. I finally went to an ENT doctor who suggested I see a dentist (for the first time in years). Basically, I had Bruxism which is just a fancy way of saying "you grind your teeth." I eventually wore down the gristle and that caused the clicking in my ears. Dentist gave me a rubbery thing to put in my mouth at night (sexy) and the clicking / crackling went away.

I think the fact that you had the flu / a cold last week is unrelated.

posted by Siena at 3:11 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you have a cold, the ear crackling may have something to do with the air pressure in your sinuses/ear.
posted by snofoam at 3:18 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: UrineSoakedRube: I don't take any drugs on a regular basis - just multivitamins and fish oil. Also no recreational drugs besides the standard beer.

I'll keep going with the mouthguard thing for sure.
posted by tmcw at 3:19 PM on November 2, 2010

# I very clearly grind my teeth at night
# My right ear makes a noise like crinkling when moved or when my jaw moves
# I'm getting headaches more often

Uh-huh, me too. Went to a very fancy TMJ dentist and got a night guard which took care of all three. Agreed with the others that the cold might be aggravating the ear noise but otherwise it's probably the jaw and not the cold causing it.
posted by librarylis at 3:32 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I meant to add: wearing your nightguard will (in my experience) eventually eliminate the jaw pain, the ear crinkling, and the headaches. You have to wear it EVERY NIGHT though, because when you forget for a night, wow does it hurt the next day. So, definitely keep going with the mouthguard and if it's not a professionally fitted one eventually think about moving towards that direction when money permits. It's anywhere from $300-500 but so very, very worth it.
posted by librarylis at 3:34 PM on November 2, 2010

I had the crinkly ear thing last year, along with earaches. It was quite weird and disconcerting. It turned out it was related to congestion from colds and allergies--some kind of Eustachian tube problem with fluid in the middle ear, if I recall correctly. Not wax related at all.

The solution involved taking OTC decongestants (I made sure it was pseudoephedrine; phenylephrine is ineffective for me) as a short-term solution and Flonase (fluticasone) as a longer-term solution during allergy season. I don't have crinkly ear or earaches anymore, and when I get a cold or have allergies I just make extra sure to decongest.

I also grind/clench my teeth in my sleep, and I have to wear a custom fitted bite guard every night. So I second librarylis' advice. I still have jaw problems but nowhere near what it was before I started using the bite guard. (Cautionary tale: I had a friend whose TMJ problems progressed so far her dentist told her she needed to start wearing the bite guard during the DAY as well. Eek.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:51 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

when i have gotten that ear noise, it has been because a hair is down in there and is like scraping on the eardrum or whatever.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 4:19 PM on November 2, 2010

It could be your jaw but I had a bad sinus cold and it happened to me too, actually it sounded like a spider constantly tapping on my eardrum and the rest of the time the crinkly thing. My ears were dry and wax free. Very temporary solution, warm up some olive oil to put it in your ear. Not too hot obviously. You can google for safe tips until you can get some stronger decongestants.
posted by shinybaum at 4:39 PM on November 2, 2010

Congestion. See a doctor, yaddiyadda.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:00 PM on November 2, 2010

I've had this as longs as I can remember. I thought it was normal. I also have TMJ, though, so, hey.

(Don't worry. It's probably just spiders.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:07 PM on November 2, 2010

I always get the crinkling noise when I have a sinus infection or head cold with lots of congestion.
posted by gumtree at 9:30 PM on November 2, 2010

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