What is wrong with my ear?!
April 11, 2016 5:01 PM   Subscribe

My ear, just my right ear, has been feeling full/ stuffy/ like it needs to pop for approximately three months now, and only the most extraordinary effort of willpower has kept me from clawing off one side of my head. The current best-guess diagnosis is TMJ issues, but no one knows, and my TMJ issues have been historically stubbornly persistent. Tedious explanation follows:

Age 17: Had TMJ surgery to correct overbite. Surgery included breaking it and moving it forward, and then screwing it into place with metal plates. Also several years of braces, and post-surgical jaw wired shut for a month. (All, all a terrible idea; we didn't know I had sensory processing issues!)

Chronic headaches begin. Not entirely sure when due to other complications (cystic acne, subsequent treatment of cystic acne with Accutane, phobias of all things doctor and needled and dentist related).

Various treatments for recurring headaches, including but not limited to:
1) three different dental appliances. (I feel like I can't breathe with these in at night, and like they make my ears stuffy, and also like they hurt intolerably. Airway specialists dentists are befuddled.)
2) Physical therapy (makes headaches worse)
3) Massage (usually makes headaches worse, neck muscles and jaw muscles need to be Left Alone)
4) Sports Medicine (marginally effective--kept headaches under control for once a week treatment)
5) Chiropractic (kept headaches under control but needed twice a week) (drop table and activator--unintrusive enough to not worry me.) Apparently my neck and ribs are often out of alignment, but even with two treatments a week, they kept going right back to where they were. A pterygoid release also helped control headaches.
6) Feldenkrais body worker -- best so far. Once a week, helps control headaches and general muscle tension. Nothing is fixed. This and Ativan and muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories are currently how I manage pain.

To the present, more or less:
In October, I was rear ended, resulting in a lot more headaches and spasmy muscles. Then, around late January, my ear felt weird and stuffy. The urgent care doctor didn't know why. Four days later, I was rear ended again (20 year old in an SUV running a red light THAT I HAD STOPPED AT Yay.)

In the interest of unstuffing my ear, I have had:
1) A course of antibiotics
2) A course of serious steroids
3) Steroidal nasal sprays (ENT)
4) A CT scan that was perfectly normal (though I have concha bulosa on both sides) (ENT)
5) A scope down my nose, which also showed things perfectly normal (ENT)
6) Nettipot (did nothing)
7) Every single ear pressure equalizing technique here: (none of them work)
a) Valsalva makes me dizzy (and does not clear ear)
b) Toynbee (does nothing much)
c) Edmonds technique (makes a slight whistly noise in my left, unplugged ear)
d) Frenzel (nothing)

Occasionally my ear will briefly pop / feel normal after going to high altitudes, but it gets uncomfortable first, and it goes back to this hideous state right after.

I am currently trying the TruDenta treatment to help my jaw calm down. It's three days, and nothing has changed (it's a 12 week program, so, well, there's that), and I am wondering if anyone has any experience or recommendations with one randomly stuffy ear and how to fix it? Is this probably TMJ? Am I doomed?
posted by Alex Haist to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I forgot to mention: I have also tried accupuncture (only once for the ear thing, but for several months for the jaw business.)
posted by Alex Haist at 5:03 PM on April 11, 2016

Does anything relieve the feeling in your ear? Any position, or activity? Have you dropped a lot of weight recently?

I'm on mobile now, but you might want to look up patulous eustachian tube (pET) dysfunction. (Not a doctor, just a fellow-sufferer.)
posted by ezust at 5:14 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is the only symptom the annoying stuffiness? I have something like that (have for the past year or so on and off) and what helped me a little bit was this treatment for glue ear which is what it sounds like you have. I just blow against something at the end of my nose, I don't use any balloon thing. That and a lot of sudefed keep it at less-annoying levels. If you've got concha bulosa the next step might be a turbinate reduction (I had one on one side and it was helpful) and a good look at your septum to see if it's off at all.
posted by jessamyn at 5:24 PM on April 11, 2016

More tests I forgot to mention: Normal audiogram and tympanaograms (100% on both).

Ezust, I don't have the rushing/echoing that seems to go with patulous eustachian tube dysfunction, and no change of position makes it better. (I tried head between knees and bending forward). Good thought, though.

Jessamyn, I tried the plastic bag thing, and it... kind of helps! It doesn't exactly get rid of the stuffy feeling, but it seems to help equalize the ear pressure a bit? It is a satisfying for about five seconds. Also, I am scheduled for turbinate reduction surgery and have been looking for ways to wiggle out of it. Very good to hear you had a positive experience with it, though.
posted by Alex Haist at 5:33 PM on April 11, 2016

Huge fan. I find the idea of surgery scary but i had been having non-stop sinus infections on that side and that was what was suggested. The surgery was a hassle but the healing time was a lot less than I thought it would be. It's not perfect still but I haven't had a sinus or ear infection since it happened. Not everyone has such good results but I'm considering getting it on the other side if getting my septum fixed doesn't fix this issue.
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 PM on April 11, 2016

I had a clogged ear for around 3 months as well. It was during a time of incredible stress in my life. We tried nasal sprays and such; none of them worked. My ENT suggested putting a tube in that ear. My 2-year-old had just had tubes put in her ears, so in my mind it was something that a child would have done -- not a woman in her late 30s. However, the relief was immediate!

I was about ready to claw the side of my head off as well. It's torture. It throws your whole perception of the world off. The tube stayed in for about 18 months and fell out on its own.

It was not something that my ENT suggested right away .... it took a lot of begging for her to do it. She just kept wanting me to try Flonase and that gave me no relief.
posted by Ostara at 10:15 PM on April 11, 2016

Is it possible that you could have a swollen lymph node or swollen glands that are affecting your ear? Sometimes they cause ear aches and stuffy ears for me and it can happen on just one side. You could try doing a lymph node massage to drain the fluid. There are lots of other links to tutorials online.

This was a recurring problem for me and taking stinging nettle supplements also seems to help keep down the swelling.
posted by Polychrome at 4:07 AM on April 12, 2016

Has your ear been washed out for deposits of ear wax?
posted by Carol Anne at 5:27 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you had a dental exam as part of your workup? The right-sided body pain (including TMJO esque pain) I was dealing with for the better part of a year ended when I noticed a lump on my gum near one of my molars and had it pulled. Instant relief.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:40 AM on April 12, 2016

That sucks so bad! My sincerest sympathies. It sounds like you've tried a lot of different things already, but the only thing I can really kick in here is maybe a decongestant with pseudophedrine? I see you've already tried nasal sprays and steroids the like, but I know when I was having weird joint/ear problems, my doctor recommended picking up Sudafed and it worked like a charm.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:12 AM on April 12, 2016

Youve seen so many physicians- has anyone suggested a neurologist? Perhaps the stuffy feeling could be due to your CN7? Just a random thought.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:10 AM on April 12, 2016

Am I doomed?

Possibly. I had the same feeling a few years ago, also in my right ear, and went to an ear doctor to see what was going on. He did some tests, I took some medications, and he determined that this is just how my ear is. It feels clogged right now. It always feels clogged. I am resigned to it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:54 PM on April 12, 2016

I get this when my TMJ/headaches/neck tightness are reaching a critical mass. I mentioned it to my acupuncturist once when I was there, and she needled some points behind my ear and fixed it. Is that where yours needled you?
posted by 8dot3 at 12:24 PM on April 15, 2016

Reporting in for Science!
tldr; ear is still stuffy.

1) I have a mild dust mite allergy, although that is probably not the problem.
2) Polychrome's lymph massage recommendation (especially the massage closer to the ears,) resulted in some interesting quiet water-y noises. I've tried three times now, and it's an interesting sensation, which is a nice change of pace from the constant stuffiness (really!)
3) Going to ask the ENT about a drainage tube during the pre-op for turbinate surgery.
4) Carol Anne: Anti-wax ear drops were one of the first things I tried. No dice, alas.
5) helloimjennsco: Oh yes, lots of Sudafed. No joy there, either!
6) Porcinewithme: I have called a neurologist! And we shall see what they have to say once I manage to wrangle an appointment.
7) 8dot3: Nope. She needled me in the wrists, I think (I was having a panic attack. Phobia of needles...) I could try a different acupuncturist, and will bring that up if I do so.

Thank you, all! I am nothing if not obsessive about this, so I appreciate all the thoughts and shall continue experimenting until a solution is achieved.
posted by Alex Haist at 8:55 AM on April 17, 2016

Update: Ear still stuffy.

Things that have failed to work, the second:
1) Turbinate reduction surgery, including the removal of a surprise bone spur.
2) Second ENT's suggestions, including lubricating more with Mucinex and various eustachian tube stretches.
3) Sleeping on a slanted bolster.
4) TruDenta. My jaw did like the orthodic, but I cannot actually cope with the sleep interference that having it in my mouth causes. I am, ultimately, too twitchy.
5) Gabapentin to reduce nerve pain, though this actually makes everything a LOT more tolerable.

Yet to come:
1) MRI of my brain for the neurologist.
2) Zapping the suboccipital nerve? (I think) to get it to stop annoying my jaw, and therefore creating a release. This from a brilliant Pain Management specialist, so I have hope.
3) Sleep study with a pulmonologist (since this is maybe a breathing problem?)

Long story short, the science continues.
posted by Alex Haist at 11:05 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

i'm dealing with a similar issue. this post thread has been very helpful. thank you.
posted by Jewel98 at 8:54 PM on January 24, 2017

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