Painful or blocked ears? We can help!

Mr Henry Sharp, Consultant ENT Surgeon

A feeling of blocked ears can be caused by an issue in the outer ear (or ear canal), middle or inner ear. The commonest cause is usually an issue in the outer ear, often due to wax accumulating and blocking the ear canal. This is often painless, but if left to accumulate and block the ear canal, it may not only cause problems with hearing but may cause an infection in the outer ear causing swelling, pain and discharge from the ear.

The middle ear is an airtight box, with only the Eustachian Tube as a drainage pathway into the back of your nose. It's normally closed but opens automatically as part of daily life when we chew, yawn or swallow. We can open it ourselves too, such as when we feel the need to clear our ears when descending in an aeroplane. Problems with the Eustachian Tube function can cause blockage of the middle ear, and a feeling of muffled hearing as a result.

Finally, as issue with the inner ear or with the nerve running from the inner ear to the brain can cause your ear to feel blocked and create muffled hearing.

Image of the ear

How can blocked ears be investigated?

At Benenden Hospital we know the key to treatment of ear problems is fast, accurate and careful investigation and diagnosis. Our ENT Consultants will listen carefully to your symptoms in detail and investigate them the same day, by means of initially looking in your ears with a microscope to accurately see what is going on.

Specialist Audiologists are then able to carry out a hearing test to help ascertain the exact nature of your hearing problem.

This allows us to pinpoint exactly where the problem is arising from in your ears, and to start appropriate treatment straightaway.

How can blocked ears be treated?

If your blocked ears are due to wax build-up in your ear canals, we can quickly and painlessly remove this then and there, using the microscope and a very fine custom made vacuum cleaner device. This procedure is called Microsuction and allows you to leave the clinic with the problem solved straight away!

What happens if medical treatments don’t work?

If we can see issues inside your ears, or on your hearing test, that won’t necessarily be treatable straight away, you may need further investigation with specialist CT or MRI scanning, or even surgery in select cases as outlined below.

We will always discuss all the options with you if this is appropriate in your case.

How does a blocked nose cause a problem in the ears?

Having a blocked nose can also lead to blocked ears and potential hearing problems.

If the nose becomes blocked, it can cause congestion of the opening and lining of the Eustachian Tube. This runs between the back of the nose and the middle ear, which is an airtight box providing the eardrum is intact.

The Eustachian Tube is the only way out of the middle ear to the outside world. Therefore, if the middle ear cannot clear itself in this way, the air within, it stagnates. This causes a negative pressure in the middle ear and the symptoms in your ears described above.

Problems with Eustachian Tube function can often be helped by giving you steroid nasal sprays to reduce swelling in the nose around the eustachian opening. If this doesn't help, we're delighted to offer a revolutionary new procedure called Balloon Eustachian Tuboplasty. Under a very short General Anaesthetic, a tiny balloon is passed through your nose into the Eustachian Tube opening at the back of the nose and then expanded to stretch the tube and get it working more efficiently.

In extreme cases, and if left unchecked, the issue with the Eustachian Tube becomes so bad that it causes a build-up of mucous in the middle ear, often termed ‘glue ear’. This is more common in children (and often associated with adenoids sitting around the opening of the Eustachian Tube and blocking it) but can happen in adults too.

We see a range of patients who suffer from common conditions such as ear or sinus infection, breathing or hearing difficulties and impaired balance. Our expert Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Consultants provide a wide range of treatments to help you feel better again.

To find out more, or to book an appointment, complete our online form or call us on 01580 363158.

You can also sign up for our free webinar with Consultant ENT Surgeon, Mr Henry Sharp on Thursday 9 December to discover more about treatment for blocked ears through our ENT services.

Published on 13 November 2021