What's up with my ear?
September 3, 2021 11:01 AM   Subscribe

YANMENT and I've reached out to my GP for an ENT referral, but I've had ear issues for years and I'm curious what it could possibly be. Snowflakes inside.

I've always had issues with my left ear. Random pain that usually goes away within a couple of hours; I had to stop wearing in-ear foam earplugs because that often caused a bad flare-up of pain. I talked to the college nurse about it and she said there was a "overgrowth of normal flora" in my ear (I still don't know what that means) and gave me some ear drops. It felt like they helped for a little while but then didn't anymore. I ended up switching to wax earplugs, but will still occasionally wake up with ear pain, or get it randomly in the middle of the day.

I also frequently get muffling/a feeling of fullness in my ear--this usually does not happen at the same time as the pain. I talked to my GP about this and she said it sounded like wax build up and told me to use hydrogen peroxide, which sometimes feels like it helps but only for a little bit (like, 10 minutes) before it's muffled again (and sometimes it doesn't help at all).

Neither of these things have been frequent or annoying enough for me to pursue it further as I have a lot of other issues I'm trying to treat right now. But I'm seeing a PT for balance issues because I was recently diagnosed with autism and my OT noticed my balance sucks. Today my PT said he's been noticing some vestibular issues specific to my left ear. In particular, a lot of the balance tasks he's having me do I can do fine if I'm looking forward or to the right, but fall over if I look to the left, which seems to be the source of many of my balance problems.

All of these issues go back at least 8 years, probably longer. I'm in my late 20s. I also got a lot of ear infections as a kid. I'm not sure they were all in this ear, but I remember the most painful one was. I also have constant tinnitus that I've had as long as I can remember--I got a hearing test a few years ago and everything was normal (though I'm skeptical of it because I have always had a tendency to "hear" quiet sounds even after they're definitely gone, and the audiologist told me "click the button even if you aren't sure you heard anything or even if you just feel something a little weird" and the tones were spaced identically apart).

So, like, obviously, after connecting all this with my PT's comments I'm going to see an ENT (which he encouraged), and have just asked my GP for a referral. But any ideas on things I can explore in the meantime, just so I can do some research on other things that might be connected that I should make sure to let the ENT know about? For example, I didn't even think about the "muffled ear" issue until I was doing some Googling and saw that ear infections can present as "a feeling of fullness in the ear" and I only thought about the fact that I had a lot of ear infections as a child because ASD (the reason I'm getting PT) is associated with a lot of ear infections as a child. I want to make sure I'm not missing anything else like that when I talk to the ENT.
posted by brook horse to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
yeah, ear infections can definitely feel like fullness and can affect your hearing. I don't get full-blown infections but my ear will definitely start hurting if my allergies are acting up. I can't take allergy medicine due to another issue but I will take ibuprofen when it happens and that seems to help reduce the inflammation which will then allow drainage to happen.

None of the things you mention seem to be super unusual and can usually be attributed to an ear infection or ear wax buildup so I bet it'll be something like that.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:23 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Couple of things that reminds me to note:

The pain/fullness is usually for a couple hours, sometimes less. Never had it go on for a full day (or I would have definitely gone to the doctor). Having either pain or fullness probably happens to me about once a week, sometimes more and sometimes less (though I haven't noticed a specific seasonal pattern). It is only ever the left ear. I do have dust allergies, I take Claritin and Flonase but have never tried taking ibuprofen when it happens.
posted by brook horse at 11:40 AM on September 3, 2021

I had a muffled feeling in my ear, eventually had to get a hole drilled into my head to scrape out abnormal growth of skin cells inside my mastoid. Twice.

It's called cholesteotoma, and you probably don't have it, but I wanted to make sure you don't put this on the back
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:43 AM on September 3, 2021

This sounds a lot like me, including the childhood ear infections and ASD. I was able to get helped at the ENT for the infection/inflammation issues, and I now have a steroid cream that helps a lot with the inflammation when it flares up. I think for me the main problem is psioriasis-type issues combined with a minor fungal infection and the steroids helped with both. My left ear canal is congenitally small so gets blocked easily with ear wax, so I also use Clinere ear scrapers and a fluid-based kit to unblock it every few months (do NOT use the metal cleaners in that kit they are dangerous). But you should definitely see the ENT first to rule out anything more serious.

The ENT wasn't able to do anything for the tinnitus and that was honestly a waste of time. I tried taking some oral medicines to "clear out my inner ear" but it didn't do anything. I may try and see a tinnitus specialist at some point, but I'm pretty sure mine is a combination of both physical issues (canal and too much loud music) and sensory issues so it may not be worth it. I also found the ear test for tinnitus to be very frustrating, I wanted to get some sort of baseline so I could track if it was getting louder over time but they didn't give me anything other than broad hearing test results. If there are amazing advances in tinnitus care I'd be happy to hear about them.
posted by JZig at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have ear issues related to sinuses, asthma and allergies. I also have small eustacian tubes. During a stretch of ear fullness and infections, I had an ear doctor put the tiny tubes in my ears, which they more typically do for young children. It helped a lot. Keeping the allergy and asthma under control is important too, to reduce inflammation.

The ENT suggested using nasal allergy meds like Flonase and tilting my head at first all the way forward and then back for a time, so it bathes the eustacian tubes.
posted by answergrape at 12:19 PM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

You should check it with an ear/nose/throat doctor or an audiologist.

I use ear scrapers, but then I am... experienced with it. I recently bought myself a USB otoscope just to check. I have SOME ear wax in one ear and nearly squeaky clean in the other. Not worth worrying about. You can buy a USB otoscope on Amazon for $25 or so, but this is only if you can't access a professional to check your ear.
posted by kschang at 12:29 PM on September 3, 2021

Do you grind your teeth? I have some ear issues due to TMD.
posted by Stoof at 5:42 PM on September 3, 2021

Full feeling in one ear, balance issues, and decreased hearing are symptoms of a slow growing benign brain tumor called an acoustic neuroma (tinnitus is another common symptom). Typically, the symptoms come on and don't go away so it's probably not that but definitely tell the ENT your symptoms, and they might send you for an MRI. An acoustic neuroma is much better to treat when it's small (trust me on this... Ugh...).
posted by adorap0621 at 7:15 PM on September 3, 2021

Some of those symptoms are like mine, which seem to be caused by blocked/swollen eustachian tubes (which connect your ears to your throat). Pressure changes in your environment could account for the random feeling of fullness, even some of the pain.
posted by invincible summer at 7:56 PM on September 3, 2021

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