Why is my ear suddenly numb?
November 23, 2006 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Why did my ear suddenly go numb? Should I go to a doctor?

The other night, I got more than a little merry on wine and spirits, and took a pretty bad spill. I have two small bruise/scrapes: one on my right cheekbone and the other on my forehead. Additionally, I have a pretty sore neck. Went home and passed out in a strange position.

The day after my big night out, my left ear went completely numb at around 3:00pm (well after the hangover had begun its glacial fade). Expecting it to go away, I carried on with my business and didn't think about it. But it hasn't gone away. My ear has been consistently numb for about 30 hours.

This afternoon, I found that if I massage my neck on the left side (where it hurts), my ear tingles. This leads me to suspect that I somehow...pinched a nerve?...when I took my drunken spill. But I don't know.

I'm a little worried about the numbness, since it hasn't gone away--and also because it's so bizarre. I tried googling, but didn't get very far.

My question is in two parts:

1) Does anyone have any idea what this could be?
2) Should I go to a doctor?--It's not simple for me to do this, as I have no health insurance and make precious little money.

posted by scarylarry to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
May I propose:

3) Should I rethink my relationship to alcohol?

Having said that, the only nerve I ever pinch hurts like crazy if I even bend my neck in that direction. It literally deforms my posture just out of unconscious pressure to avoid the pinch. That's from a slipped disc. If you pinched or blood-starved the nerve just by your position, without throwing any vertebrae or discs out of alignment, I'd guess that the main tactic of treatment would be just to keep your neck out of the strange position. So, strictly as guess-based unofficial information-gathering, feel the back of your neck with your fingers: Are all the knobs in line, where they used to be? IANAD, or even a chiropractor, but if you find anything that way you might raise that point if/when you see one.

To sum up,

1) I have no better guess than you have.
2) See about a single visit to a chiropractor maybe?
3) I meant that. Anything that leads to head trauma needs to be taken seriously.
posted by eritain at 12:30 AM on November 24, 2006

Short answer: Yes. You should.

Long answer: I would like to propose a rule that if your question ever amounts to "should I go to a doctor?", it should be deleted with the reason "Yes, you should."

If anything scares you enough to be posting on the internet about it, you should ask a doctor, not a bunch of people who are not doctors and will only be able to speculate and guess based on their previous experiences that may have been similar bot not identical ...

Go to the doctor.
posted by twiggy at 12:39 AM on November 24, 2006

By your ear, do you mean just the external bits, the whole deal, the side of your face, what?

Is there any swelling? redness? feverishness? splotchyness?

Have you been exposed to any radioactivity? gamma rays?

OK, so that last part I made up, but, the rest were serious questions.

I second the above, when in doubt: vamp (meaning go see a doctor).
posted by Pollomacho at 12:48 AM on November 24, 2006

Pollomacho, it's the external bits of my ear that are numb. I don't notice any hearing loss at all, and my face around it isn't numb. But the outer rim of the ear itself, as well as the lobe, have literally no feeling at all in them.

The consensus seems to be that I should go to a doctor--but this is really difficult for me financially, especially if they want to run expensive tests. Do you think it's urgent that I go?
posted by scarylarry at 7:33 AM on November 24, 2006

Yes you should go to the doctor and in the meantime massage it as much as you can and see if you can get the tingel back!
Some people lose body parts (NOT KIDDING) by falling on a limb in a drunken comatose state and effectively cutting off the blood supply to a limb or large area of skin due to their weight pressing on it in the wrong way. Since the alcohol acts as an anaesthetic, they can't feel the damage until it is too late.
They used to call it Saturday Night Palsey as you rarely recovered full feeling in the limb and were left with a weakend limb, or in the worst cases you could lose it.
Is the ear cold, pale, (compare in a mirror with other ear), but yes get to a doctor. IANAD but I do not believe this requires many tests besides a proper history, physical exam. Maybe one of our Mefite Medics could be more specific.
good luck
posted by Wilder at 8:44 AM on November 24, 2006

A doctor may be expensive, but it sounds like cutting out drinking for a month would more than cover the costs.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:54 PM on November 24, 2006

though the wait may be long and boring and probably highly unpleasant, why not go to a public/charity hospital emergency room or clinic? Though perhaps not free, there is inexpensive medical care out there for those in need, and it sounds like you qualify.

alternatively, with a little luck and some research you may be able to find a doctor or chiropractor who charges on a sliding scale according to need.
posted by ab3 at 9:13 PM on November 24, 2006

*I am not a doctor, I am a physical therapy student, and you should take what I say with a grain of salt and follow it up with a visit to a doctor.*

But I think it is indeed possible that you have pinched a nerve. The greater occipital nerve supplies a large section of scalp and possibly a little bit of ear. The ganglion of this nerve is located in a vulnerable location, between C1 and C2 vertebrae. If you fell on your neck in a way that caused your neck to extend, you could have pinched this structure. Is any of your scalp numb, or feeling the same kind of tingling?

I would advise a visit to a good physical therapist -- depending on which state you're in, this may require a preliminary visit to a doctor. They will perform a good exam, find out if this is indeed what's going on, and straighten you out. Hope you feel less tingly soon.
posted by jennyjenny at 8:25 AM on November 25, 2006

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