I have ear pain in quiet rooms at any little noise.
August 13, 2011 1:08 AM   Subscribe

It's only in my left ear, and mostly only when the room is very quiet. At first it would only happen in the car after we turned the engine off. Now it happens all the time at home if I don't have music on to drown out small noises like my typing or talking or the pings of IMs.

I have tried Googling this to no avail. Most of the results I find talk about deafness (I don't seem to have hearing issues) or tinnitus (I am not hearing a ringing or crackling.)

What happens is, I'll be in a quiet room (say, the kitchen) and every little sound will make my left ear feel like it's exploding. It's quite painful, and sometimes leads to headaches if I let it go on. Wearing an earplug will fix it of course, but also if I turn on music on nice and loud, that works too.

I'm unsure of what could be causing this. I have a doctor's appointment next week, but I'm baffled in the meantime. I'm going to a free clinic, so I'm worried they may not have the time or the resources to find an answer.
posted by Charybdis to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm no doctor (not even close), but it sounds neurological in nature. (can't think of any physical non-neurological reason why absence of sound interrupted by transient, but quiet sounds would cause pain.) My instinct would be to seek out a neurologist.
posted by smcameron at 1:53 AM on August 13, 2011

I've had something rather similar to this, and it was due to a serious bout of sinusitis - itself the result of 'flu. It resolved itself completely after a two-week round of antibiotics. Took almost a week before the symptoms lessened. Have you had a cold or the 'flu recently? Or wisdom teeth extracted? Or any kind of nose/ear/throat infection?

(On a nastier note, all kinds of sounds/pressuresensations/pain can fall under tinnitus. Not just the classic ringing. Much more serious. Friends have ended up using hearing aids to cancel or balance out or mask the sensations.)
posted by likeso at 2:33 AM on August 13, 2011

I have found that trigger points in the jaw muscles cause this sensitivity. Treating my masseter makes my ears feel like they've 'opened up' in some way, and treating the lateral pterygoid makes the muscle inside my face relax so the top of the jaw feels like its 'dropped', then the ears get back to normal. You can treat them, but have to treat the neck muscles holistically like scalenes and trapezius to reduce the tension and stop in coming back.
posted by Not Supplied at 4:00 AM on August 13, 2011

Ear pain is a common symptom of TMJ.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:24 AM on August 13, 2011

TMJ sounds possible... I definitely have no signs of an ear infection. And I have headaches more often than I have in years right now.

I have not had a cold/flu in ages, and as far as I know I'm not having allergy issues, but I could try taking an allergy pill and see if that helps.

For now, I wear an earplug when going to the kitchen or anything like that, and play music in my room when I'm there. My big concern is when school starts soon, I don't want to be wearing an earplug in class.

Thanks for all the possibilities, everybody.
posted by Charybdis at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2011

There's another possibility, but unfortunately I can't remember the proper name for it. It's a reflex in the ear that is supposed to protect your eardrum from sudden loud noises. When a sharp, sudden noise occurs in a quiet context, this little muscle is supposed to quickly allow your eardrum to relax a bit. In some people (hi!) it works in reverse: it makes the eardrum tighten when there is a sudden noise, so the effect of the sound is magnified instead of dampened. At least that's how my audiologist explained it. My understanding may be quite bolloxed up in the details, but that's the gist.

[short trip to Wikipedia]

Perhaps something related to acoustic reflex? If this doesn't resolve, a trip to an ENT could be helpful.
posted by Corvid at 1:30 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oooh. Corvid! That sounds quite like what I'm having. I kept reading about hyperacusis, but that involves hearing loss, which is not a problem with me.

What was the resolution for you? Or is there one?

posted by Charybdis at 1:52 PM on August 13, 2011

No resolution, beyond wearing earplugs when I watch a movie. I finally totally stopped watching commercial TV, cause the commercials deliberately try to make you jump by beginning with a sudden loud noise. My audiologist said that a sophisticated ( = $$$) hearing aid could correct for it, but it doesn't bother me THAT much. I was very intrigued by this bit from the Wikipedia article:

"The vocalization-induced stapedius reflex can indeed be used for hearing protection purposes. Just before an impulse noise (door slam, electromagnet lock slapback, gun shot, pound of hammer on nail) one could vocalize (or cough or hum) to protect one's hearing from the sound pressure that the impending sound would create. The reflex is not a perceptual reduction in sound; the reflex is a real reduction in sound level reaching the inner ear — an actual reduction in how far one's delicate hair cells will be bent by that sound. An identical hammer blow when one engaged in no vocalization is more damaging to one's hearing than that same hammer blow if one began vocalizing just a few tens of milliseconds prior to the blow."

So, if you know the noise is coming, or coming again, humming would really work. Just what I need - random humming to convince everyone around me that I am indeed completely bonkers.
posted by Corvid at 1:22 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The fact that humming helps sounds a lot like how I can run music and do just fine.

I got a sore throat yesterday and feel congested now. Taking an allergy pill cleared those up, but didn't really relieve the ear issue, unfortunately. So it does sound like it's more what you're saying, Corvid.

I'll have to try humming when I go to the kitchen. Thank you!
posted by Charybdis at 12:17 PM on August 15, 2011

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