If your ear feels numb or you’re experiencing a tingling sensation in one or both of your ears, it could be a symptom of a number of medical conditions that your doctor should investigate. They might refer you to an otorhinolaryngologist — also called an ENT doctor — who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose, throat, and neck.

1. Sensory nerve damage

Sensory nerves carry sensory information from parts of your body to your central nervous system. For example, when your ears feel cold while you’re outside in the winter, that feeling is courtesy of sensory nerves.

If the sensory nerves in your ear get damaged, your ear may have trouble feeling sensation. This could result in a tingling feeling known as paresthesia, which could eventually become numbness.

Sensory nerve damage is a common cause of ear numbness that can result from injury to the ear, such as a direct blow or even an ear piercing.

2. Middle ear infection

If your middle ear is infected, you might have symptoms besides ear numbness that include:

  • hearing loss
  • ear pain
  • persistent pressure inside the ear
  • pus-like discharge

3. Earwax blockage

Earwax that has hardened and is blocking the external ear canal, can cause ear numbness. You might also have symptoms such as:

4. Swimmer’s ear

When water gets trapped in your ear, it can create an environment for bacteria or even fungal organisms to grow. An external ear canal infection, also commonly called swimmer’s ear, can include ear numbness and other symptoms like:

  • hearing loss
  • ear pain
  • ear redness
  • ear tingling

5. Foreign object

If you have a foreign object in your ear — like a cotton swab, jewelry or an insect — you might experience ear numbness in addition to these other symptoms:

  • hearing loss
  • ear pain
  • infection

6. Stroke

If you’ve experienced a stroke, your ear could feel numb. Other stroke symptoms include:

Strokes are a medical emergency: They can cause severe brain damage and even be fatal. If your numb ear occurs in conjunction with these other symptoms, call 911 immediately.

7. Diabetes mellitus

People with diabetes who don’t carefully manage the condition can experience peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is the result of injury to the peripheral nervous system, which relays information in the body to or from the central nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy can cause tingling and numbness in your extremities and on your face, including the ears.

To make a diagnosis, your doctor will need to know about physical symptoms beyond your tingling or numb ear. For example, they’ll ask if you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms along with a numb ear:

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s a clear indication that you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Ear tingling or numbness when accompanied by other symptoms might be an indication of more serious conditions, such as:

A numb ear or a tingle in the ear is a symptom with a range of causes, from a commonplace ear infection to Meniere’s disease. When you consult with your doctor about ear numbness or tingling, make sure that you detail all symptoms you are experiencing, even if they might not seem to be directly connected to your ear numbness.