6 Common Ear Problems and What You Can Do


People take their ears and their hearing for granted until a problem arises that causes pain or the inability to hear sounds. A number of minor conditions can occur that may not require a visit to the doctor, but you should always consult your doctor first. Allergies, swimming, airplane travel and colds are just a few of the common scenarios that can cause ear pain or hearing loss.

1. Wax Build-Up

The body manufacturers earwax, also called cerumen, to protect the ears. Generally, people do not need to remove the wax. Natural movements of the jaw will generally move and work the wax out of the ear canal. However, this wax can sometimes build up in the ear canal causing pressure, discomfort and hearing loss. A number of earwax removal products are available in drug stores. These products should only be used according to package directions. Earwax can become impacted, leading to pain, hearing loss, odor from the ear and dizziness. Your physician will then use a syringe to remove impacted earwax in the ear if necessary. Never put anything into your ears. Only clean the exterior of your ears with Q-tips.

2. Swimmer’s Ear

Those people who swim a lot are familiar with the blockage and hearing loss that often comes with spending a great deal of time in and under the water. You may experience pressure within the ear, decreased hearing and pain. This problem is caused by water trapped with the ear canal. Often it takes hours or days for the water to drain. Placing a few drops of alcohol into the ear canal will help to evaporate the water that is trapped in the ear canal. If the water trapped within the ear contains bacteria, it can lead to infection and severe pain. Prescription eardrops may be necessary. Your physician may also prescribe oral antibiotics for severe infection.

3. Airplane Ear

Airplane ear occurs when air within the ear canal becomes blocked. This blockage can cause intense pain during descent of the airplane and may cause deafness for some time after the flight. Pilots know a trick to help unblock the ear canals during descent of the plane. They are taught to pinch their noses shut, close their mouths and very gently blow air outward through their noses while keeping their noses shut. This pushes outward on the eardrum, relieving pressure. Some flyers swear by taking a decongestant pill such as Sudafed or in using a nasal spray about 1 hour prior to descent. Using these products can help to widen the ear passages avoiding the air blockages that sometimes occur. But make sure you consult your doctor before taking any pill. Chewing gum is often advised to avoid ear canal blockage and deafness. The jaw motion helps to relieve the pressure in the ear canal. It is not always effective, however. Yawning and swallowing are some other remedies for relieving ear blockages from flying, but these methods may not always provide relief.

4. Ear Infection

Ear infections often occur after a cold, causing severe pain in and around the ear and sometimes hearing loss as well. These infections are caused by viruses and generally require a visit to your doctor’s office or a nearby clinic. Never attempt to put anything in the ear if you suspect that the cause may be an infection. Your doctor will prescribe a nasal spray or oral antibiotic to eliminate the infection.

5. Allergies

If you are troubled by allergies, you may also experience ear involvement along with other symptoms. In addition to the usual sneezing, runny nose and eye irritation, you may experience itching in the ear canal, fluid build-up, muffling of sound and oozing of fluid. Allergens are known to have an effect on fluids throughout the body. The excess fluid can lead to ear irritation, hearing loss and infection. Antihistamines, decongestants and prescription nasal sprays may be necessary to control the problem. As always, eliminating exposure to the allergen will also help to control symptoms. Make sure you see your doctor to find out what you can do to control the problem.

6. Tinnitus

Tinnitus is defined as a condition characterized by ringing, swishing, buzzing humming or other continuous sounds that originate in the ear. Pain, dizziness, fullness in the ear or headache can accompany the sounds. It is a common problem that can occur in people who work in noisy environments and those who suffer from hardening of the arteries. Tinnitus can affect quality of life, however. If you are troubled with this condition, consult an otolaryngologist, who can prescribe medications or suggest hearing devices or surgery to relieve the condition.

Whatever problem you may experience with your ears, you should always remember that the ear is a delicate mechanism that requires special treatment. Avoid placing Q-tips or other objects in the ear. Clean ears gently and with medically approved compounds. For any prolonged problem, see your physician for the proper treatment.