Suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my...eardrum.
January 6, 2012 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Why does it sometimes sound like someone is tapping on my eardrum when it's quiet?

I only notice it when it's quiet and the sound is very faint. It's only in my right ear, it's intermittent and it's not painful. It's something I noticed about two months ago and it's not really that bothersome but I'm curious about it. I do have health insurance so if it could be a symptom of something serious, I'll see a doctor. I did have a physical back in September and the doctor didn't see any weird anomalies in my ear. I also don't have a problem with my hearing and actually still have great hearing (I can hear those weird ringtones that the kids use that adults aren't supposed to be able to hear). What could this be?
posted by MaryDellamorte to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I get that sometimes, I think it's just your pulse which you can pick up with your ears.
posted by ashaw at 4:22 PM on January 6, 2012

If it is not in sync with your pulse, I think it could be tinnitus, vestibular migraines, or meniere's disease, just to name a few. The latter two come with a host of other extremely vexing symptoms which I suspect you would have noticed already.
posted by elizardbits at 4:29 PM on January 6, 2012

It's definitely not in sync with my pulse and it's only been happening the last few months. It's like a rapid tapping sound which goes on for a few seconds and stops. It might do it again a few seconds later, or a few minutes later. Sometimes hours will go by without it happening.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:33 PM on January 6, 2012

I get a weird clicking in my ear when my sinuses are playing up and goop is dripping around up there. Goop dripping around being the technical name for it.
posted by wwax at 4:46 PM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I get this once in a while, it always seemed like some sort of muscle spasm. Never really interfered with anything and it goes away soon enough.
posted by sanka at 4:46 PM on January 6, 2012

I think as a first pass, maybe try an earwax removal kit.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:48 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

wwax, I know the clicking sound you speak of and I get that too when my sinuses are on the fritz. This tapping is a completely different sound and I've been noticing it every night for the last two months.

I know it's not earwax since I've never had an issue with wax build up and at my physical in September, the doctor said the insides of my ears looked really good. I actually do have to go to the doctor again soon to recheck my vitamin D levels so I guess I'll ask her about my ear.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:53 PM on January 6, 2012

Example - when I get a similar sensation (and I have both vestibular migraines and Meniere's disease) the best way I can describe it is as though it's a non-Newtonian fluid being poured quickly down a narrow drain. It's sort of a bubbly hollow tapping that can be anywhere from quiet background noise to loud keeps-you-up-all-night tappyclicks, and it ranges from pulse-similar speeds to incredibly rapid.

Concurrent hearing loss/ringing, headache w or w/out aura, dizziness, sound &/or light sensitivity, balance issues, ear pain, vertigo, nausea, &c - any of these would suggest to me an inner ear/neuro issue like vestibular migraines, meniere's, or a secondary endolymphatic hydrops. The absence of any other noticeably upsetting symptoms makes me assume it is something less life-alteringly annoying.

I am very much not a doctor of anything ever, so obvsly ymmv. If it persists or affects your sleep cycle, see an ENT. Otherwise, it is an interesting mystery!

On preview - I notice it more when I'm tired. Not necessarily only at night; just when I'm ready to sleep. SO ANNOYING.
posted by elizardbits at 4:54 PM on January 6, 2012

I went through a phase of a few months when I got this after lunch every day, but it hasn't happened in years. I also suffer from occasional migraines and some other sinus weirdness (I tend to get a lot of ear infections), but never did figure out what it was. Anyway, you're not crazy, but I don't think it's dangerous, and it might just go away on its own!
posted by telegraph at 5:03 PM on January 6, 2012

elizardbits, that's interesting. I do sometimes get dizzy spells or nausea but I always attributed it to my hypoglycemia.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:36 PM on January 6, 2012

This happened to me last night!
I've had it happen only once before. To me it feels like some sort of spasm that affects the eustachian tube. I'm interested to see if anyone has any good answers...
posted by aloiv2 at 6:15 PM on January 6, 2012

If it is middle/inner ear related, try this next time you experience it to see if it stops:

- Put both palms of your hands over your ears with your finger tips reaching towards the back of your head

- Tap alternatively on the back of your neck right below the base of the skull while applying light pressure from you palms to your ears.

This will usually clear up tinnitus symptoms for example. I used to experience what I think was very similar symptoms to what you're having. I'd sometimes wake up thinking something was moving in the house before I figured out it was all in my ear. It took a few months to clear out (and was followed with mild tinnitus). If the nausea or vertigo get worse definitely make that appointment...otherwise it might clear up on its own just fine.
posted by samsara at 6:26 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If that's what I think it is:

I get this too, or at least the same symptoms, sometimes, rarely. For me, it is a piece of dry earwax, a flake. The tapping or fluttering is the ear going through machinations trying to force it out!

Using biofeedback techniques, I can usually exert some control and make it come out. No Kidding.

Have you ever had your ear spontaneously rumble a bit then a piece of earwax pops out? This "function" or spasm to eject earwax is built into our ears. You can learn to control it a bit, like I have.

Basically, while lying in bed, the affected ear down on your pillow, just concentrate and sort of try to exercise your ear canal, bu thought alone, and will your ear to eject it.

If that sounds new agey or wierd or something, well, that's what it sounds like. It usually works for me. It's just trying to start the ear's own process, whatever that's called.

But if you don't do something like this, it's harmless, and eventually it will come out. Or you can get a simple ear cleaning from a doctor or nurse. I don't trust drugstore ear cleaning things, but that's me. I could do more damage than good.

Again, this is for something that seems to be just like your symptoms and works for me. I am not in any medical field.
posted by caclwmr4 at 6:59 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have health insurance/can otherwise afford it, then it can't hurt to see a doctor. Otherwise, eh. It took 15 years for my issues to get unignorable.

You might want to keep track of the vertigo/nausea issues and see if they pattern to obvs hypoglycemia or not, though, especially if they don't seem to be positional.
posted by elizardbits at 7:03 PM on January 6, 2012

My dad had something similar, with vertigo. I seem to remember he said that something had formed crystals in his eustachian tube (although I am fuzzy on my memory of this part). What I do recall clearly was that once they figured it out, it was really easy to fix. The doctor, an ENT, did a maneuver where he tilted and turned my dad's head real fast and that shook the obstruction free. His problems cleared up immediately.

All this to say, if it bugs you or gets worse, see your doctor. It may be a really easy fix.
posted by elizeh at 8:08 PM on January 6, 2012

Does yawning alter it or cause it to stop temporarily? I've had this during severish allergy symptoms and I always assumed it was part of having inflamed sinuses.
posted by muddgirl at 8:33 PM on January 6, 2012

After two months of the tapping sound only in my right ear, tonight marks the night that I experienced the exact same tapping sound in my left ear which actually is making me concerned. Muddgirl, I don't have allergies or have problems with my sinuses unless I'm sick. The popping sound I get in my ears when my sinuses are inflamed when I'm sick is completely different than this.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:26 PM on January 6, 2012

Try washing out your ears. Put a couple of drops of olive oil in each one before you go to sleep, then in the morning flush them out in the shower with a 20ml syringe (no needle! Just the syringe). You'll know you've got the angle and delivery rate right when the squirt is LOUD. Three or four 20ml squirts into each ear works for me.

You don't want to do this too often because earwax is protective and this will remove a fair bit, but if your clicking is due to flaky and/or hairy wax dropping bits of itself on your eardrum, it should quiet things down.

Hopefully your problem is unrelated to this one. I had a very small black ant in my ear once. Little bastard was wearing hobnailed boots by the sound of him.
posted by flabdablet at 4:53 AM on January 7, 2012

Also consider palatal myoclonus - it's noted in the section under 'types' and could be what you're experiencing. Tough to diagnose sometimes, and generally no simple treatment.
posted by jhs at 5:17 AM on January 7, 2012

I've had exactly what you're describing - a very quick thump thump thump about five times as fast as your pulse for maybe a second or two. I was having them pretty regularly about a year or two ago but now that you mention it, I haven't had it in a year or so. At the time I mentioned it the doctor I go to for my ADD meds (an MD / PhD in neurophysiology) and he looked in my ear but was otherwise pretty much "Meh" about it. I suspect that it's more or less as caclwmr4 describes - a muscle twitch in response to some sort of tickle response.

It's not the bit with the little grains in your eustachian tubes. I had that once and it wasn't so much a "that's odd" sensation as a "please just let me die" kind of feeling. When I tried to get out of bed I was happy that when I fell I managed to hit the floor. Bleh.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:57 AM on January 7, 2012

I seem to remember he said that something had formed crystals in his eustachian tube (although I am fuzzy on my memory of this part).

That's BPPV and the exercise thingys for it are called the Epley maneuver or the Semont maneuver. This is pretty noticeably different from other vertigo issues because it's dependent on your position or movements, instead of inner fluid imbalance or, idk, evil gnomes.
posted by elizardbits at 10:11 AM on January 7, 2012

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