Some health conditions, including an ear infection, congestion, or an inner or middle ear condition, can cause your ear to feel blocked. In some cases, you may need medical care.
Feeling like something’s in your ear can affect your balance and hearing, as well as just being annoying. While sometimes the feeling is because there IS something in your ear, there are other potential underlying causes that range from fluid buildup to an infection.
Most underlying causes of feeling like something’s in your ear are not cause for concern. However, there are some instances where you should seek emergency medical attention.
The following are some of the most common causes of ear fullness or feeling as if something is in your ear.
Congestion doesn’t just happen in your sinuses—you can get ear congestion, too. Another name for ear congestion is “popping ears” or a feeling of pressure in the ear that often takes place when flying. You may also have pain or problems hearing.
Ear infections can cause the eardrum to fill with fluid and pus. This can create a sensation of fullness.
- problems hearing
- ear drainage
- itching around the ear
Earwax is typically protective for the ear — except in certain instances where it builds up excessively. Too much earwax can cause symptoms such as:
- ear pain
- hearing problems
Eustachian tube dysfunction
The Eustachian tube acts as a connector between the throat and middle ear. If the tube gets plugged with fluid, excessive pressure can build up. This causes symptoms that include:
- muffled hearing
- clicking sounds
- ringing in the ear
- balance problems
- feeling of fullness in the ears
Sometimes it feels like something is in your ear because, well, something is in your ear. Small children often put small objects in their ears, including:
You could also have an insect or other unusual object in the ear, which can cause pain, bleeding, and infection.
Glue ear is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the middle ear, thickens, and creates a negative pressure effect in the ear. The condition can result in hearing loss, so it’s important to treat it.
Ménière’s disease is a chronic medical condition that affects the inner ear, typically in adults.
- dizziness or vertigo
- affected balance
- hearing unusual sounds in the ear, such as ringing, roaring, or buzzing sounds
Tinnitus occurs when you hear sounds that aren’t coming from outside your body. While ringing in the ears is a common tinnitus symptom, some people report symptoms such as buzzing, whooshing, or even hissing. The unusual sounds can make you feel as if something is in your ear.
There are other potential causes of feeling like there’s something in your ear. If the feeling is persistent, see a medical professional, or talk with an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
The treatments for when you feel like something is in your ear depend on the underlying cause. However, the general consensus is that you shouldn’t try to put anything in your ear in an attempt to retrieve what may be in there. Whether a foreign object, excessive earwax, or other cause, you could potentially push something in the ear further into the ear canal instead of getting it out.
Some treatments include:
- Ear infections: A doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or antibiotic ear drops if the infection is bacterial.
- Earwax buildup: Applying over-the-counter earwax softener and then gently flushing with a bulb syringe can help remove earwax.
Because feelings of ear fullness are often due to changes in ear pressure or fluid buildup, there are some approaches you can take to relieve pressure. Examples include:
- Moving the face: Chewing gum or yawning can help move excessive air buildup.
- Turning the head: If excessive fluid buildup is the underlying cause, turning the head parallel to the ground and pulling slightly backward on the earlobe may help to empty the ear.
- Swallowing repeatedly: Swallowing water or air with the nose pinched may help to relieve pressure in the ears.
- Taking decongestants: Decongestants can help to “dry” up the fluid buildup in the sinus cavities to reduce overall pressure.
- Placing a warm towel over the ear: Placing a warm, but not excessively hot, towel over the ear may help to relieve pressure.
However, if these at-home methods do not relieve ear pressure, see a medical professional.
See a medical professional immediately if you know you have a foreign object in your ear, or if you are experiencing significant bleeding or pain from the ear. Other signs you may need to see a health professional include:
- continual ringing, buzzing, or muffled sounds in the ear
- pus discharge from the ear
If you have other troublesome ear-related symptoms, contact a health professional.
In rare instances, ear pain or a feeling of fullness in the ear has been described as a heart attack symptom. This may be due to pain that extends from the heart to the ear. Those who have reported ear symptoms related to a heart attack usually had uncommon symptoms such as neck or stomach pain as well.
Feeling as if something in your ear isn’t uncommon, and could indicate that you have extra fluid or air in your ear or ears. If at-home measures don’t help your symptoms, see a medical professional before trying to dig in your ear yourself.