My ear is clogged - it isn't wax -- and I'm frightened.
March 20, 2007 10:59 PM   Subscribe

Something is really wrong with my ear - It feels very clogged, very stuffed, and I can't hear out of it well at all - It isn't wax, after a week of trying over the counter wax removal stuff, I went to a Doc who confirmed that my ears were clean and not waxy - so it must be stuffed up on the other side, and she gave me some prescription decongestant. She said it would clear in 24 hours or so - That was Saturday. It's very unpleasant, and with it not going away, it's actually really scary - and with my work hours, I can't get back to the doc until the weekend at the earliest. Anyone have thoughts, suggestions, anything? I'm really quite desperate at this point.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Keep using the decongestant. If it's not going away, it's most likely a bacterial ear infection. For this you'll have to go back to the doctor and they'll get you a prescription for amoxicillin/augmentin/other generic prescription

IANAD, but I have had over thirty ear infections in my lifetime :-)
posted by unexpected at 11:06 PM on March 20, 2007

Agreed. If a doctor looked in your ear and confirmed that you don't have water or wax in it, then you have something behind your eardrum which could be some sort of air pressure, an infection or (I have heard from my doc) water.

Make sure you've done the valsalva maneuver in case you were someplace with differing air pressure like an airplane and you need to normalize it. My guess is you would know if this was the case. If it's an infection the good news is that antibiotics will clear it up quickly. If it gets worse, or painful, feel free to go to a doctor more quickly than the weekend.

I know it's tough but I would try not to be frightened. While the ear thing is certainly inconvenient and annoying, there is a pretty slim to none chance that it is a harbinger of immediate worse things to come. I've had ear troubles all my life and I hate having an "oh shit is this going to get worse" ear problem, but besides waiting for the decongenstants to kick in or a second doc appointment, you're doing most of what you can. You might want to try sleeping with your ear on a heating pad or a hot water bottle if the stuffedness gives way to discomfort.
posted by jessamyn at 11:13 PM on March 20, 2007

Have you lost any hearing (high or low tones)? Do you have any ringing? Or is it just clogged up? And it's only on one side? What was going on before this started, anything in particular?

IANAD either, but lots of ear problems here so I have a great deal of empathy for how scared you are. Hang in there, okay?
posted by miss lynnster at 11:13 PM on March 20, 2007

Response by poster: I should have noted that early on in these last two weeks I had an unrelated issue for which I took a course of antibiotics. It cleared the other issue, but not the ears. Doesn't negate what you said above, of course, but may make it less likely?
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:14 PM on March 20, 2007

Probably seasonal allergies (hay fever). For small values of comfort: my hearing shuts off for a few weeks every fall during some-random-plants'-blooming-season, a symptom that no amount of decongestant alone makes a dent in. Try taking some Claritin-D.

Also, do you happen to be taking anything containing Naproxen (Aleve)? It has a not-uncommon side effect of temporarily messing with your hearing.
posted by jamaro at 11:15 PM on March 20, 2007

Response by poster: Tried valsalva, but haven't been in any pressure changing situations. It's uncomfortable, but not painful. I'll try the heating pad -- I should have one around here somewhere....

It is only one ear, and I have trouble hearing through it, but I think simply from the clogged issue, no ringing or loss of specific ranges. As for before this event, nothing related that I can think of, no, and no Naproxen. I'll google myself some claritin-d as well. Many thanks for all these responses too - it just seems so isolated and bizarre, I have this terrible fear of figuring "it'll go away on its own" and ending up deaf in one ear for life. Me? A bit of a worrier ;-)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:19 PM on March 20, 2007

IANAD, this is not medical advice, etc., but:

My wife had very similar symptoms, getting worse over the course of 3 weeks, clogged ears, diminished hearing. After a few weeks she she started feeling a little discomfort, not really pain. She was worried she was going deaf.

Last Monday we finally got an appointment with an ear doctor. Finding nothing wrong after a visual examination, the mystery was solved with two questions: Do you drink coffee? Do you eat a lot of apples, carrots, bagels and similar hard stuff?

The answer to both was "Yes, a lot". Turns out she had an inflammation of the jaw muscles from too much clenching and chewing. If you see a 3D model of the human head, the jaw muscles are fractions of an inch from the ear canal, and when inflamed can put pressure on it. It feels to the user as if the problem is IN the ear.

My wife took OTC Ibuprofen for a few days, reduced her coffee and hard food intake, and is getting a lot better.

The doctor recommended that the next time she feels something like that, she should forcefully 'massage' her jaw muscles and see if it hurts. If it does, that may be the cause.

The doctor also said something like 'Too bad she can't hear you, but she can still talk... Nothing i can do about that.'
posted by Dataphage at 11:37 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is kind of gross, but it might be relevant:

About 20 years ago I was blowing my nose really vigorously, and suddenly there was a weird feeling, and then my hearing went crummy in one of my ears. I went to the doctor about it, and what he told me was that I'd managed to open one of my eustachian tubes while I was blowing my nose, and had blown a bunch of snot up inside my ear drum.

He told me it would clear itself up, eventually, but it was going to be slow. And he was right. It took months.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:53 PM on March 20, 2007

I should have noted that early on in these last two weeks I had an unrelated issue for which I took a course of antibiotics. It cleared the other issue, but not the ears

When they gave me antibiotics for an inner ear thing a few years ago, I had a hard time hearing in that ear for months after. It also gave me a semi-disturbing tic which involves me yawning all the time in order to keep that ear clear. So I wouldn't necessarily worry if your hearing doesn't come back immediately... from what I understood, it takes time for the infection by-products to work their way out, and until that happens you kinda have to live with it. So, by all means, make sure your doctor is up to date on your status, but it's probably too early to seriously freak out about your hearing.

Also, I'm not a doctor.

on preview, what SCDB said, but somehow not as gross
posted by logicpunk at 12:42 AM on March 21, 2007

Your previous course of antibiotics didn't involve gentamicin did it?
posted by DarkForest at 4:34 AM on March 21, 2007

I can't get back to the doc until the weekend at the earliest.

Um. Am I the only one lost on this. Do you have access to a telephone?

Call your doctor's office. It could just be a side effect. Even if you can't go until later this week, for them to know might make a difference. If he/she looks at your chart, having done a diagnostic workup, the existing symptom may change their opinion of what to do.
posted by filmgeek at 4:52 AM on March 21, 2007

I just had a very similar problem taken care of at an Ear Nose and Throat doctor. My General Practitioner did not notice the months-old, stone-hard glob of whatever that was blocking up my right ear, but the Ear Nose and Throat specialist who I visited was able to see it, remove it and give my ear a general cleaning in about 10 minutes.

If you've only had a GP look at your ear, and things aren't getting better, ask for a referral to an ENT specialist asap.
posted by syzygy at 5:00 AM on March 21, 2007

I had a similar thing happen. Clogged feeling, loss of some hearing and I had some ringing, but the doctor confirmed that there was nothing visibly wrong. She told me to take Sudafed for 2 weeks and let her know if it didn't work. It took a little over a week for me, but it finally just went away.
posted by thejanna at 5:04 AM on March 21, 2007

If you want to speed up the process of clearing out your plugged Eustacian tube, which is likely what it is, I'd do what my doctor recommended: chew gum. That's one of the few things that works in my experience. I'd also recommend getting the decongestants that combine pseudoephedrine with an expectorant, the same stuff that's in cough medicine (guafesine?). Really, it is chewing gum and getting exercise (resulting in deep breaths presumably opening up and flushing out my sinuses) that help the most.
posted by mikeh at 6:14 AM on March 21, 2007

I have experienced the same problems in the past due to allergies... very, very unpleasant.

In my case, I found massaging the area around my jaw bone/behind my ears helped soothe some of the pain (which I found particularly unbearable).

Being in Canada, I was also able to get easy access to 222s (Aspirin with codeine) which got me through the day without any pain at all.

Generally, the symptoms went away within two weeks - so just be happy to know that your time with blocked ears is almost up!
posted by elkerette at 6:27 AM on March 21, 2007

IANAD. It sounds like you have some kind of infection that antibiotics can cure. Not all antibiotics are the same, so it's possible that what you have now wasn't affected by the dosage you took a few weeks ago. You may need something stronger for this, if it is an infection.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 6:59 AM on March 21, 2007

Do you have any dizziness (room feels likes it spinning) or nausea spells?
I have Ménière's disease and some of what you are saying sounded like me before I got diagnosed, but the feeling of vertigo is definatly a part of what I have.
posted by ShawnString at 7:04 AM on March 21, 2007

I had the same problem a few years ago. It was essentially an inner-ear infection with the pressure and pain andhearing loss. I got an antibiotic prescription. But the doctor said that while the drug would kill the infection, it would take one to two months for my ear to clean itself out and thus, be able to hear properly again. It took about a month for things to go back to normal again. I had the same fear of "what if I wait and wait for things to go back to normal and they don't and I could have done something about it during all the time waiting!!!!" So really, just suck it up. It will take care of itself. Good luck
posted by greta simone at 7:18 AM on March 21, 2007

I'd also recommend getting the decongestants that combine pseudoephedrine with an expectorant, the same stuff that's in cough medicine (guafesine?).

IANAD but I get ear infections and sinus infections and thus serious congestion in my ears fairly often. My doctor has always recommended taking Mucinex (active ingredient guaifenesin) along with the pseudoephedrine decongestant. The reason is because Mucinex loosens up any mucus, thus allowing it to drain. Often when you have head/ear/sinus congestion that won't get away, it's because the gunk is all hard & some of it is drying up, and thus it can't drain out. The pseudoephedrine will just dry it up even more. But the Mucinex will allow it to drain out, thus clearing you out a lot better.

If you take Mucinex, drink LOTS of water, because it can be dehydrating. The extra water intake will also help it to work and loosen up that gunk.

Feel better!
posted by tastybrains at 7:26 AM on March 21, 2007

My grandfather recently had similar symptoms, and it turned out he had a fungal infection in his ear. Gross. He hunted high and low at the drug store for an ear medicine with the generic name his doctor had recommended, to no avail. Finally he asked the pharmacist, and was quite shocked to discover that the medicine he's supposed to put in his ear is more typically used to cure athlete's foot and jock itch. Heh.

I'm certainly not advising you to put tinactin in your ear, but it might be worth bringing up the possibility with your doctor, if they have trouble figuring out what's wrong.
posted by vytae at 8:28 AM on March 21, 2007

What tastybrains (and most others) said--decongestants are likely your best bet, since you've already seen your doctor and ruled out anything in the outer ear. My doc told me I have narrow eustachian tubes, and I can expect them to get clogged during allergy season, despite my daily antihistamine pills and monthy shots.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:09 AM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: A lot of good advice here, and certainly some things I'll be trying (Mucinex will be purchased on my lunch break, for instance) but above all, many, many, thanks to you all for reassuring me that, whatever it is, I'm probably not going deaf :-)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:14 AM on March 21, 2007

My doctor prescribed Flonase when I had eustachian tube dysfunction (same symptoms you have). It's an inhaled aerosol topical steroid, and apparently it gets all over the inside of your head and brings down any swelling in your eustachian tubes. Worked in a few days.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2007

Once again, IANAD but as I linked to it before, I've had major ear problems. You need to to go a doctor and probably have them send you to an ear specialist who can look waaayyyyy into your ear (and up your nose -- it's not pleasant but it's necessary). It sounds to me like you may have an ear infection &/or some issues with your eustachian tubes as someone else mentioned. The infection in my ear blocked ALL sound for 12 days, and a weakness in my eustachian tubes was the origin/cause of all of the problems.

If you have an ear infection, they'll give you antibiotics and anti-inflammatories just for it. But definitely get it checked out. And don't panic, be pretty confident it will all go away in time. You may just have to be patient and wait it out. Plus, that you don't hear any ringing is a really good thing... cuz tinnitis gets REALLY annoying after a while.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:44 AM on March 21, 2007

that happens to me once every couple years. i'm pretty sure its just some internal sinus congestion type stuff. i don't take anything for it, it usually clears itself up in a few days. it's annoying but i'd rather not take a bunch of meds. good luck.
posted by fac21 at 10:40 AM on March 21, 2007

I forgot to mention -- like mr_roboto, I also have a Flonase prescription that I supplement with allergy meds during the spring/summer/fall seasons. I only have to resort to the decongestants when it gets excessively bad.

Out of curiosity, do you sometimes hear a popping when swallowing or a "crunchy" noise when moving your jaw around? I get those, and it's usually indicative of eustacian tube trouble.
posted by mikeh at 1:05 PM on March 21, 2007

That wasn't quite right, either. I should have said that it's indicative of that problem OR a jaw joint/TMJ thing. I have the former, but not latter, problem and one can seem like the other.
posted by mikeh at 1:09 PM on March 21, 2007

mikeh writes "That wasn't quite right, either. I should have said that it's indicative of that problem OR a jaw joint/TMJ thing. I have the former, but not latter, problem and one can seem like the other."

I have both. My head sounds like a Tom Waits percussion section right now.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:13 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: To wrap this up once and for all.. it did, eventually, go away about three weeks after this question. I was trying decongestants and stuff, but I do not know if those were responsible (if so, they certainly took their time), or if it just cleared on its own. It was a slow improvement, so much so that I wasn't sure if it was clearing or not, but it eventually started to pop now and then, and before long, it was all back to normal.

Many thanks to all, again. :-)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:44 PM on June 3, 2007

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