You felt your ears are blocked so you did what most people would, used cotton buds. That did not help so you finally found out you can clean your ears professionally, you did your research and realised microsuction is the safest method for ear wax removal. You have now had your ears cleaned, how come they still feel blocked?
So what causes ear blockage?
There are several possible causes of ear blockage, which is the sensation of fullness or pressure in the ear that can affect hearing and balance. Some common causes of ear blockage include:
- Earwax buildup. Earwax, or cerumen, is produced by glands in the ear canal and is normally pushed out of the ear naturally. However, sometimes it can accumulate and harden, causing a blockage in the ear canal.
- Ear infections. Infections in the middle or inner ear, such as otitis media or labyrinthitis, can cause swelling and inflammation that can result in ear blockage.
- Eustachian tube dysfunction. The Eustachian tube is a narrow tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat, and it helps regulate pressure in the ear. Dysfunction of the Eustachian tube can lead to ear blockage and a feeling of fullness in the ear.
- Sinus congestion. Sinus congestion, often due to allergies, colds, or sinus infections, can cause nasal congestion and swelling that can also affect the Eustachian tube and result in ear blockage.
- Barotrauma. Rapid changes in air pressure, such as during air travel, scuba diving, or driving up a mountain, can cause barotrauma, which is pressure-related damage to the ear. This can result in ear blockage and discomfort.
- Foreign objects. Inserting foreign objects into the ear canal, such as cotton swabs or other small objects, can push wax or debris further into the ear and cause ear blockage.
- Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL). SSNHL is a condition characterised by a rapid loss of hearing, often occurring over the course of hours to days, and is typically accompanied by other symptoms such as ear fullness, tinnitus, and dizziness. The exact cause of SSNHL is often unknown, but it is believed to be related to various factors such as viral infections, vascular issues, autoimmune conditions, and inner ear disorders.
- Other causes. Certain medical conditions, such as Meniere’s disease, tumours, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, can also cause ear blockage as a symptom.
This is not an exhaustive list. With these many possible causes, you can see that the aim of microsuction is to tackle ear wax only. So if you have had the procedure and your ears are still blocked you will need further investigation to find out the cause of the blockage.
Where to get microsuction
You can now see that if microsuction does not solve your ear blockage you will need to have further investigation. This is why we need to make sure the professional seeing us knows what to do if microsuction alone does not alleviate the symptoms of ear blockage. Although many practitioners offer microsuction these days, it will be best if you go to an audiologist, ear, nose and throat doctor, or specialist nurse. These health practitioners will most likely have the skill and facility to diagnose other possible causes of your ear blockage. In some clinics, all three professions work together as a multidisciplinary team.
How to treat ear blockage
The cause of the ear blockage will determine the treatment. The table below shows a list of the most common causes of ear blockage and their treatment:
|Ear blockage cause||Treatment option(s)|
|Ear wax buildup||Microsuction, ear syringing, or manual ear wax removal|
|Ear infection||Acute otitis media (middle ear infection): Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat bacterial middle ear infections. Pain-relieving medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may also be recommended to alleviate pain and discomfort. In some cases, if the infection is severe or persistent, a healthcare professional may need to drain fluid from the middle ear using a procedure called a myringotomy or tympanocentesis.|
Otitis externa (swimmer’s ear/outer ear infection): Ear drops containing antibiotics, corticosteroids, or antifungal medications may be prescribed to treat bacterial or fungal infections of the outer ear. In some cases, the ear canal may need to be cleaned to remove debris or infected material.
Chronic otitis media (persistent middle ear infection): Chronic or recurrent middle ear infections may require a more comprehensive treatment approach, which may include antibiotics, corticosteroids, or other medications, as well as addressing any underlying factors such as allergies or eustachian tube dysfunction.
Viral ear infections: Viral ear infections, such as those caused by respiratory viruses, typically do not respond to antibiotics, as antibiotics are not effective against viruses. In most cases, viral ear infections are self-limiting and resolve on their own without specific treatment. Symptomatic relief with pain medications and management of associated symptoms such as nasal congestion may be recommended.
|Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL)||If SSNHL is suspected or diagnosed in association with an ear infection, prompt medical attention is essential. Treatment may include corticosteroids, antiviral medications (if a viral infection is suspected), and other medications or interventions depending on the underlying cause.|
|Eustachian tube dysfunction||Treatment for Eustachian tube dysfunction depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Here are some common treatment options:|
What to do next?
The most important decision you will make when your ears are blocked is deciding who to see. Make sure you do your research so you are seen in the right kind of ear wax removal clinic and by the correct practitioner. If your ears are still feeling blocked after microsuction, visit your GP who can signpost you to your local ENT or audiology department for further investigation.
Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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