Ear ache from unsuccessful irrigation
March 23, 2011 6:49 AM   Subscribe

This is my boyfriend's question, but I figured I'd ask it here. Thanks! The other day my right ear was bugging me (felt a bit plugged up), so I tried cleaning it out by spraying a mixture of warm water and vinegar deep into it as my ENT instructed a few years ago when I had a case of swimmer's ear. Unfortunately, some of the water didn't come out (I think) and now my inner ear hurts and my hearing has been significantly reduced and muffled.

I've spent the day researching home treatments for swimmer's ear and most say to use either: warm water mixed with vinegar, rubbing alcohol, or rubbing alcohol mixed with vinegar. I've tried all three, but to no avail.

I tried using one of those curved ear syringes to suck the blockage out afterwards, but I'm afraid I've just made things worse. Now my ear's insides are bright red and inflamed, so drops burn something fierce when poured out of my ear (yet they don't hurt when the liquid is deep inside).

I'm beginning to wonder if there's even anything up there. Not much wax came out when I tried cleaning it and when I pour in the various ear drop concoctions above there's no crackling sound. Could I have just damaged my inner ear with all the poking and prodding I did trying to fix it? If so, should I just leave it be and hope it heals on its own?

I've scheduled a doctors appointment in a couple days, but was hoping I could fix this sooner since the pain has been driving me up the wall (and I'd like to save money by not going to the doctor, if possible).

Anyway, to the people who've suffered similar ear issues and had success with any of these home remedies, was there an easy way to tell if you were on the right track (like the crackling sound from the drops?) It seems the more I try to fix the problem the worse it gets and my ear is now sorer than ever. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Betty_effn_White to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
I'm paranoid about losing my hearing so if it were me, I'd be going to see the first doctor that would take me. The ear is a delicate organ, and I don't think home remedies by trial and error is worth the risk. Could you go to a walk in clinic or emergency room today?
posted by Homo economicus at 6:54 AM on March 23, 2011

Stop trying to fix it. Go to a walk-in or the emergency room.
posted by sid at 6:56 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since you say that it gets worse the more you do to it, maybe just letting it sit for a while? I am absolutely not a doctor, but I can't help but wonder if all the other stuff you're doing to it is keeping your body from doing its own "bounce-back". Kind of like how if you keep peeling off the bandaid off a cut and rubbing on Bactine and hydrogen peroxide and such, your body won't have a chance to actually make a scab because you keep wiping away the beginnings of the scab with the futzing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 AM on March 23, 2011

You might have a middle ear infection, instead of swimmer's ear (an outer ear infection). I think it is best to leave it alone. If you have any kind of rupture or damage to the eardrum, putting things in there will make it worse.

Pain relief--Advil is what I use when I have swelling + inflammation. (Generic name ibuprofen).
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:57 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

This happened to me when I was about 19, and after about a week of screwing around, I ended up losing some hearing in my left ear. I think you should go to the doctor ASAP.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 6:57 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Quit messing with it! If it gets better on its own, all the better. Otherwise wait until the doctor takes a look at it. If you have an actual ear infection, it seems unlikely that continually dripping liquids in there other than an antibiotic is going to help, and as you have already noticed, just makes the inflammation worse. Regarding the pain, perhaps and over the counter NSAID, or pain-relieving ear drops. (I think they might sell ear drops in the children's section, just ask the pharmacist.)
posted by nasayre at 6:58 AM on March 23, 2011

Sit tight until your appointment. If it is still inflamed and irritated then go to your appointment. I would stop messing with it and let it heal or at least let the inflammation from the irritation settle down. I am no doctor, but I would not run to an emergency room. I have a hearing loss from an issue when I was in second grade so I am sensitive to hearing issues and I would wait to go to the regularly scheduled appointment you made.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:02 AM on March 23, 2011

This happens to me--I have an outer ear infection or a wax buildup or something, I try to treat it on my own, then develop a middle ear infection, which feels exactly the same way (at first). Frustrated, I go to the doctor complaining of "water in my ear," she has a look and confirms no water, puts me on meds, I get better. Every couple of years. You'd think I'd learn.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:18 AM on March 23, 2011

You've injured the canal, provoking an inflammatory response, which is what's giving you the clogged feeling and muffled hearing.

If you have an infection of the external ear, you'll want antibiotics. Otherwise, it's just a wait for it to heal situation.
posted by orthogonality at 7:19 AM on March 23, 2011

The crackling sound from your eardrops is typically wax breaking down in your ear. I flush my ear our ocassionally and have the same water issue, only I use mineral oil instead of vinegar. My usual solution is to lay my sore ear on a heating pad. I'm pretty sure that it's not doctor recommended, but after a lifetime of chronic ear issues, I do what I can on my own.
posted by jmd82 at 7:20 AM on March 23, 2011

You probably just need your ear cleaned out. But with the pain, i'd go to an ear doctor asap.
posted by empath at 7:48 AM on March 23, 2011

I have had a sensation that I thought was a plugged-up ear, but was actually an ear infection. See a doctor.
posted by adamrice at 7:51 AM on March 23, 2011

Stop shoving water and other things in your ear. Go see a doctor now.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:57 AM on March 23, 2011

You can have ear infections that are not touched by antibiotics (fungal or viral). It took four (count 'em, four) people with M.D. behind their names to figure out that my ear infection was fungal. The ENT knew what it was immediately, the others fiddled around quite a bit (months) with ineffective approaches.

Basically, give Urgent Care one and only one whack at it, then see an ENT.
posted by adipocere at 8:29 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Same thing happened to me. A combination of major ear wax, air pocket, trapped water = inner ear infection. They had to dig out some wax for the medicine to penetrate, clear up the infection, then clean the heck out of my ears (it was so cool). I highly suggest you go to the doctor. As for vinegar--it's a little acidic for the ear. I always heard peroxide and water.
But the bottom line is stop messing with it and make an appt.
posted by stormpooper at 8:40 AM on March 23, 2011

I have problems with wax buildups blocking my ear. Most times I wash my hair in the bath (ie, putting my ears underwater) I get the same thing - pain and pressure in my ear with greatly reduced hearing.

Using things like swimmers ear do nothing to help the problem.

For me, it means that I need to go and get my ears syringed sometime soon. Until I can get to the doctor, I normally find that the actual problem goes away by itself over night (occasionally with a rather gross waxy deposit on my pillow).

So... stop trying to fix it yourself and get yourself an appointment with your normal ear doctor (GP/specialist/whatever), but personally I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by twine42 at 8:52 AM on March 23, 2011

It's really stubborn earwax. Last year I had the same problem, where I tried mineral oil, olive oil, wax removal kits. All that did nothing and I was actually deaf in my left ear and it started hurting. After about three days of this, I went to the quick clinic where the nurse took a look and irrigated it for me. There was some HUGE chunks of wax, and I was good as new.
posted by mlo at 9:33 AM on March 23, 2011

Take some ibuprofen for the inflammation and swelling of your ear. If it doesn't feel better by tomorrow, I'd call a doctor and get it syringed out.

I'd wait a day, because it could just be that the inflammation and swelling are what is making your ear hurt right now, and that once that goes down, you will be fine. But if that doesn't happen, yep, out to the doctor you go!
posted by misha at 9:42 AM on March 23, 2011

Response by poster: In the scant few hours since I posted this the pain has gone down significantly. Yay!

My hearing is still a bit muffled though, and it's still uncomfortable, so unless that miraculously clears up I think I'll keep the doc appointment. I think there probably is still some kind of blockage in there, but I've done all I can do on my own and will just have to leave it to the pros at this point.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 9:58 AM on March 23, 2011

I'd say wait a little longer and see what happens, and stop messing around with it.

Also, you may or may not want to go on youtube and search on "ear wax removal," for shits and grins.
posted by nevercalm at 1:12 PM on March 23, 2011

Question: When you first noticed this, did you feel as if the ear was sticky and waxy or filled with fluid? I have a history of on-going ear problems and just went to my ENT on Monday for the latest bout. I'd say there are three options as far as what is wrong:
1) Excess wax. That's when you'd use ear drops to break up the wax and/or use some sort of device to irrigate the ear and remove a plug of wax that is muffling the hearing.
2) Fluid in the middle ear. You don't want to put more fluid in there to treat this (I've learned). That's why, if you've tried drops and irrigation a few times and haven't had any luck, it probably is best to just wait until someone with an instrument can look in there and tell you what they see.
3) Ear infection. Once again, you don't want to treat an ear infection with the drops that you would use for excess wax.

With my latest problem, I assumed I had excess wax and that's why my ear was blocked. I didn't think I had an infection or fluid in the ear. I used a few types of ear drops that would normally crackle. There was no crackling in either ear, but I kept using them. I, also, attempted home irrigation and didn't have any success. Finally, I broke down and went to Walgreen's Minute Clinic. The nurse who looked in my ear there said she didn't see any wax (though that didn't stop her from trying to irrigate my ears anyway), but she did say there was an ear infection. She prescribed an antibiotic. After a week, it didn't go away, and I had to make an appointment with an ENT. He looked in there and told me I didn't have wax OR an ear infection and that everything that was done previously was wrong. I had fluid in the ear and since I used all the other treatments and waited so long, I didn't respond well to easier treatments (like a week's dose of prednisone) that often clear things up without surgery. So, I had to get a myringotomy (a tube) put in one ear. Now, I have to get the other ear done. I'm not saying that that is what will happen to you, but I am saying if an OTC treatment doesn't seem to be helping after a few tries, it's best to stop because you might be making it worse (definitely stop once you start to feel discomfort or pain!). And, also, don't procrastinate, and go right for the ENT. Going to a doctor may not be the preferred option (believe me, I'm with you), but, not only might it clear the issue up faster, it might save you money if you would just go there first. For me, other OTC treatments, going to the clinic (which misdiagnosed), and prescriptions cost well over another $100.. and maybe going to the ENT earlier would have prevented the need for tubing the ears. I would keep your ENT appointment, maybe take an aspirin (or whatever) for discomfort, and really don't worry.. it's likely something that will be a cinch to treat and you'll feel so much better after your appointment. Good luck, and I hope you feel better soon!
posted by Mael Oui at 10:40 PM on March 23, 2011

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