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My ears feel plugged, what causes this?

Why are my ears plugged? For starters, spring is here which means warm weather, blooming botanicals, longer days, and allergies!  Allergies often induce an inflammatory reaction in the middle ear which will cause a plugged sensation.  Secondly, the plugged ear sensation is often noticed after an upper respiratory infection. Other instances include after air travel, diving, or exposure to loud noise will cause a temporary feeling of a “plugged ear”.  

Audiologists are doctors of Audiology who perform diagnostic tests. Our hearing system is made up of four different areas, the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, and the balance organ. Audiologists perform more than hearing tests. They perform numerous diagnostic tests. Each test will give the audiologist data on the four specific areas of the auditory system. The audiologist will use this information to recommend treatment or to refer to a specialist such as an otolaryngologist. The reports from the testing that is performed by the audiologist are extremely valuable to the specialist.  

The role of the eustachian tube in normal middle ear function.

Sometimes eustachian tube dysfunction is the culprit. The eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the throat behind the nose. The purpose of these tubes is to equalize the air pressure and to drain fluid in the middle ear space.  Plugged ears may be a sign of the eustachian tube not functioning normally. Allergic rhinitis, chronic sinusitis, acid reflux, and smoking. In older adults, an extremely small muscle called the tensor veli palatini may atrophy causing eustachian tube dysfunction. 

Those who suffer from migraines may experience plugged ears. The plugged ear may exist with or without a headache. A very rare cause of plugged ears is a leak of the CSF cerebrospinal fluid. This is caused by the erosion of a thin bone that separates the brain from the middle ear. 

When the sensation persists beyond a few days it may be time to see an audiologist. There is a greater sense of urgency to be evaluated by an audiologist if you are also experiencing the following; pain in either or both ears, tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, dizziness, sensitivity to loud or sudden sounds, or a change in hearing.