Why are my ears plugged?

One of the most common complaints we hear from patients is a plugged sensation in the ears. Patients feel they can still hear, have no pain or dizziness, however, they feel as if something is blocking their ear canals. Why does this happen? Is this normal? Can it be helped?

Where is the problem located? There are three regions of the ear we need to rule out. The outer ear is the visible part and the canal leading to the ear drum. If there is an obstruction, such as ear wax, a cotton swab, swelling in the ear canal, drainage fluid or a hearing aid dome, this will certainly cause the symptoms. These are often removed easily and safely.

The middle ear is the air space behind the ear drum. If the eustachian tube leading to the throat is congested, the drum will not vibrate. This will cause a plugging sensation. Fluid behind the drum, including infected fluid, may also cause the sensation.

If the outer and middle ear areas are fine, there may be inner ear loss of hearing. High tone loss of hearing can produce an illusion of being plugged. This is very common in cases of noise exposure.

Of course, the first thing we need to do is determine where the problem lies. The first thing we will do is ask this patient about recent history. Have you been swimming, traveling, having surgery? This may give us our first hints. Then we look with our camera to find any obstruction or swelling. Once we know the canal is clear, middle ear tests will tell us if your ear drum is vibrating as it should. Finally, we may need to test the inner ear and complete an audiogram to find the answer. Only then can we formulate a treatment plan.

If your ears feel plugged, do not hesitate. Have them checked now. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.