Suffering From Plugged Ears?
Plugged ears can happen to anyone, and most of us have had the experience a number of times. There are a number of causes of plugged ears, including fluids or foreign objects entering the ear canal, changes in air pressure, inflammation, and that old favorite, ear wax buildup. You can sometimes take steps to prevent plugged ears, but usually the condition just happen. When it does it is almost always temporary, and is seldom serious.
Changes In Air Pressure - A change in air pressure can cause the ears to feel plugged, although they actually are not. Plugged ears due to air pressure changes are seldom experienced by those of us who spend our lives at sea level. You have to either go up in an airplane or go driving through the mountains to experience the feeling. What happens is the air pressure in the inner or middle ear suddenly becomes different from the outside air pressure. If you gain (or lose) air pressure fairly rapidly, such as when the cabin pressure in an airplane changes, air is pressed against your eardrum. This will make it difficult for the eardrum to vibrate, which makes hearing difficult, though seldom impossible, and also gives the ear a feeling of being plugged.
If the change in outside air pressure is happening slowly, you will normally not notice anything, as the air pressure in the inner ear will gradually change to balance things out. If the cabin pressure in an airplane changes quickly, your ears will become plugged. In modern airliners, the cabin pressure usually changes slowly enough so that your ears never feel plugged. In earlier times, airline stewardesses would sometimes hand out chewing gum to relieve the pressure. Swallowing relieves the plugging sensation by allowing the air pressure in the Eustachian tubes and middle ear canals to adjust to match the outside air pressure. If you are driving in the mountains and gain or lose elevation quickly by going up or down a steep hill your ears may plug. If you are hiking in the mountains you will probably never notice anything. The change in air pressure due to altitude changes happens too slowly.
Liquid In The Ear - Plugged ears can also be the result of getting water in the ear canal or having it seep through the eardrum into the middle ear. In either case, the liquid against the eardrum makes vibration difficult and, as was the case with changes in air pressure, makes hearing more difficult and leads to the feeling of plugged ears. Water in the ear, be it in the outer canal or middle canal is seldom a serious problem, and is usually temporary. Water in the middle ear will eventually exit through the Eustachian tubes and into the throat. Some people who have lots of exposure to water may experience swimmers ear. Here the ears may not only become plugged but irritation and possibly infection may set in. Ear drops are the usual remedy in such cases.
Inflammation – Plugged ears due to inflammation or infection are fairly common in children. When the Eustachian tubes become inflamed they tend to swell. This affects the air pressure on the middle ear, and gives the sensation of the ear being plugged. A somewhat similar situation can occur when a person has a cold. The Eustachian tubes can fill with liquid and effectively plug the ears. Hearing and sometimes even balance can be affected. Young children are especially susceptible to ear problems due to the common cold. Oral decongestants or nasal sprays are the usual remedies.
Foreign Objects - Children, especially very young children also have a knack for putting things in their ears that don’t belong there, anything from dirt and mud to small toys or parts of toys. Adults are of course also capable of sticking foreign objects into their ears, and it is not uncommon for a bug to venture into an ear canal and get stuck in the wax, thereby plugging the ear.
Earwax Buildup - For adults, earwax can and often does cause problems. Earwax is formed from a waxy oil called cerumen. Cerumen is secreted from glands inside the ear canal. Its function is to protect the skin in the ear canal from dust, dirt, and water. Cerumen eventually changes from an oily consistency to one that is a waxier in nature. Some people produce cerumen and ear wax more rapidly than others do. Normally the wax falls out of the ear or is washed out before it can build up too much. Occasionally however it builds up, hardens, and can eventually plug the ear canal. What can make matters worse is if a Q-tip is used to try and remove the wax, with the result being that the wax is simply pushed further into the ear. Fortunately there are over the counter solutions and home remedies – ranging from warm water to hydrogen peroxide- that can be put in the ear canal to safely dissolve the wax. On occasion, the wax needs to be removed by a medical practitioner.
In summary, plugged ears usually are a temporary annoyance and seldom are an indication of anything serious. If the situation does not clear up in a reasonable time, hearing become noticeably affected, or the pressure is accompanied by pain or inflammation it is usually advisable to see your doctor.