What the hell is wrong with my damned ear
April 22, 2013 6:16 PM   Subscribe

My ear's not infected and my Eustachian tubes are not plugged at all. Why do I still have that "full" feeling in my ear and the accompanying echo-sensation when I speak?

For five days now I have had a feeling of fullness in my right ear. It just started one morning and there was nothing that preceded it as far as I can tell. No colds or infections or anything. I've not had any trouble 'popping' my ear, if you know what I mean by that. My hearing doesn't seem to be affected, although the sound of my own voice has a strange echo-quality to it on that side of my head. There has been no pain at all, but it's been driving me crazy.

Today I went to the walk-in clinic (I'm Canadian so free health care but no family doctor so I am stuck with no reliable continuity of care). The doctor asked me how long it had been going on (five days), whether there was pain (no), did I have tinnitus (no) and what else I would describe it as. I told him that it just felt full and when I spoke it echoed on that side of my head. He harrumphed and said 'ear infection' but then looked in my ear and said it looked perfectly fine. He then said 'probably a blocked Eustachian tube' and asked me to pop my ears. When I did so with no difficulty he was visibly surprised to see my eardrum move and told me that he was out of ideas. He didn't prescribe anything, just told me to take decongestants for a week and hope for a family doctor opening.

So I'm going nuts with this lopsided sensation of fullness. I can pop my ears no problem and there is absolutely no pain but the sensation is driving me crazy. Any ideas on what this could be are appreciated. I'm trying to get a family doctor but they are thin on the ground in northern BC. In the meantime I am taking Benadryl for allergies and pseudoephedrine because it was recommended as the decongestant of choice.

Please tell me this will go away... I'm very thankful that it doesn't hurt, at least, but it's driving me bonkers having this weird sensation of fullness on one side of my head.
posted by Sternmeyer to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It should go away, has been my experience. Sinuses are weird sometimes and I have weird ones so have developed a bunch of various things that help. I've even learned to wiggle my ears in the process. It's possible that you have some other weird little stuffed up place in your head that is putting pressure on your ear canal or the whole system in there. Do you have allergies generally? Are the flowers/plants starting to come out around there? Did you go swimming or otherwise take a long hot shower anyplace? Are you staying well hydrated? Have you tried using a neti pot to make sure the gunk is moving around in the rest of your facial sinus area? Have you ever tried sinus massage (not suggesting anything else on that page, but I've found the massaging sometimes helpful)?
posted by jessamyn at 6:24 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding the suggestion that it is a weird, quirky random sinus thing. Your sinuses are way bigger and affect way more than you'd think; I get everything from that same "huh, my ear feels full and that feeling came out of nowhere" feeling, and I also get sinus headaches, post-nasal drip, and even dizzy spells when I have really bad congestion. It's all sinus related.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:30 PM on April 22, 2013

I've been having a heck of a time this season with allergic congestion that is left untouched by sinus or asthma meds.

Then I remembered that dramamine (Dimenhydrinate) does something to decongest the eustachian tube area and it has helped. So maybe give it a try 'til you can get to the doc. I feel your going nutsness! Hope it helps!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 6:31 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is called autophony. It has several possible causes, such as Patulous Eustachian tube (my guess). Of course, none of us can diagnose you online. Please see an ear nose and throat specialist.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:32 PM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've had this condition quite a bit in the past (in my twenties and early to mid thirties), and it's generally associated with a cold or hayfever.

My nose and throat get plugged up, and (mild) inflammation spreads to my Eustachian tubes. And then I can't hear.

The way it's been explained to me is that the tubes swell up and create a vacuum in the tube itself. The vacuum draws fluid from the surrounding tissue into the Eustachian tube, and this causes loss of hearing and general discomfort like you are experiencing.

I used to live across the street from an ear, nose and throat clinic (this was in Japan), and the doctor recommended that I drink a lot of fluids, avoid air conditioning, and the condition would sort itself out.

So, you may wish to try out some antihistamines or something.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:45 PM on April 22, 2013

could it be earwax buildup? I don't know whether this is a medically recommended practice, but I have had good results from having an accomplice drip a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in the affected ear while I lay my head on a pillow, ear-side up, then wait a few minutes and stand up and let it drain out.
posted by lakeroon at 7:16 PM on April 22, 2013

If you dork around with your ears too much either with a Q-tip or with "popping them" they can get into that annoying/full feeling and it will linger for a couple of days. And if you keep trying to "pop" them back to normal, it just gets worse.

Leave your ears be, unless you're in pain, and they'll recover soon enough.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:32 PM on April 22, 2013

Yup, it's autophony (the loud, echo-ey hearing yourself speak). I get that frequently...but then again, I've had an inner ear problem for a long time. I can also hear my left eyeball move (a sort of creaky noise) when I'm in a very quiet room.

What you have does sound like a eustachian tube thing. The tissues of your middle ear are probably somewhat swollen/inflamed for whatever reason. Antihistamines + real pseudoephedrine does seem like the way to go. Maybe take a low does of an anti-inflammatory too(?)
posted by bennett being thrown at 7:36 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to get patulous eustacian tube a lot. It comes and goes randomly. I have no idea why. I nth getting a specialist as soon as possible, because in my experience, problems with the inner ear other than simple congestion are unheard of by GPs. If it is patulous eustacian tube it's the opposite of congestion. I'm not saying that's what it is, but your experience sounds like mine.
posted by bleep at 8:27 PM on April 22, 2013

Do you still have your wisdom teeth? If so, it could be something weird with them, like an infection/abscess.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 10:13 PM on April 22, 2013

Dramamine (the old formula) contains diphenhydramine (in a salt with somethign else, I think); diphenhydramine is the same thing as Benadryl. If you don't mind being sleepy Benadryl is a rather effective antihistamine.

Otherwise, could it be referred from somewhere else? I had a really terrible earache, woke up crying in pain, but it turned out it was actually a canker sore in my throat mistriggering some nerve and the ear itself was fine. (Your case isn't pain, but I suppose pressure somewhere else might be mistaken for ear pressure).
posted by nat at 10:30 PM on April 22, 2013

I've had this before and it lasted months. Turned out that it actually had nothing at all to do with my ears really but instead had to do with clenching my jaws and having extreme muscle tension in my neck and shoulder. Several trips to the primary care dr for allergy meds, nose sprays, hearing tests, etc. with no relief. Went to the ENT who gave me a couple of steroid shots in my neck and shoulder and that fixed it within a couple of days.
posted by tamitang at 10:30 PM on April 22, 2013

Seconding others who have suggested patulous eustachian tube. I had similar symptoms and it is irritating as hell and very, very frustrating. It can make you feel like you're going crazy--I have a LOT of sympathy for you!

What worked for me: addressing the allergy symptoms with a prescription nasal spray (Flonase, I think mine was) and decongesting using plain pseudoephedrine, the smallest amount I could get away with that was effective. (You'll know if you need to take less than the recommended dose, because it'll make you feel squirrelly.) I had to ask for plain pseudoephedrine from the pharmacist but it was no big deal ultimately. I just didn't want to be taking more acetaminophen than necessary. I took the pseudoephedrine every day for about a week/week and a half, and the symptoms were dramatically improved after that time. I kept taking the Flonase until it was gone. I think the symptoms went away completely within...a month? It's been a couple of years and the echoing ear thing hasn't happened again since.

none of us can diagnose you online. Please see an ear nose and throat specialist.

The problem is it doesn't work that way in Canada. You can't go directly to a specialist--you have to be referred by your GP first. Which is normally perfectly fine, but not if you're in the OP's situation and you don't HAVE a GP.

OP, I am very sympathetic to your situation. I also live in doctor shortage land and I didn't have a GP myself for a couple of years. It was horrible. However, I remember seeing a doctor at the walk-in clinic allowing me to come to his office for a one-time follow-up appointment because he ordered some lab tests and wanted to continue my care for at least a short while (and not just throw antibiotics at me). He did make it very clear he couldn't take me on permanently though, which sucked.

So maybe if you see a sympathetic doc at the walk-in clinic, you could get him/her to do a referral to an ear/nose/throat specialist and at least you'd get SOME kind of continuity of care. Specialists don't tend to be as overloaded as GPs, so you might have a better chance of getting seen by one. Good luck!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:34 AM on April 23, 2013

Thanks for the replies. The benadryl+pseudoephedrine combo seems to be helping a fair bit. As hurdy gurdy girl mentioned, I can't just go see an ENT on a whim, and the clinic refuses to refer me to anyone for anything non-life-threatening because I wouldn't have any follow-up care regardless. The way it was explained to me was that if Doctor X referred me and I needed follow-up care or long-term treatment, then Doctor X would be responsible, and Doctor X just isn't taking on patients right now. Things are pretty draconian around here for getting to see a doctor on the regular.

jessamyn, I've never tried the neti pot. Something about pouring anything into my nose gives me a terrible fear, ridiculous as it sounds. I am going to try the sinus massage today. Certainly can't hurt, I would think. As far as hydration, well, I drink a lot of water and tea most days. I'll keep everything you said in mind while I go about my daily routines.

nat, funny you should say that re: canker sores, as I have a number of them that flared up right around the same time as this ear BS. Maybe they are related. If the ear clears up at the same time as the canker sores, I will be happy!

No wisdom teeth, esmerelda_jenkins, but I know what you mean. When I finally had my wisdoms removed, it was because I got an earache that lasted two weeks and it took a clever clinic doctor to tell me that it was possible it was my teeth and not my ear.

tamitang, I do have shoulder tension and jaw clenching issues, and I am actively working on it.

Once again thanks for the replies. You've given me lots to think about! I am going to do as the clinic doctor said and keep up on the pseudoephedrine/benadryl while hammering on doors to get a family doctor. I am kind of a catastrophizer so when something changes/goes wrong with my body I assume it will be like this forever, even though I know that is not nearly as likely as it clearing up or improving over time. Sometimes it helps just to see that other people have had similar problems and the problems went away or the people were able to overcome the challenges the problem presented.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:57 AM on April 23, 2013

I've never tried the neti pot. Something about pouring anything into my nose gives me a terrible fear, ridiculous as it sounds.

I actually had more success with this thing than I did with a Neti pot. Tipping my head way over to the side like you have to do with a pot was pretty clumsy and uncomfortable for me, but this was way easier (it's kind of like one of those nasal spray things, just WAY bigger), and it seemed to have a bit more force behind it.

It does still feel weird on a mental level to be voluntarily inserting water into your nose, but doing this had enough of a positive effect that I got over that pretty easily. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on April 23, 2013

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