If you’re experiencing muffled hearing, don’t panic. Discover common causes and when to see a doctor.
The 3 key takeaways
- Muffled hearing often isn’t serious — It’s relatively common to experience a muffled ear after you get off an airplane or when you have a cold.
- If symptoms persist, go see a doctor — While muffled hearing usually resolves on its own, it’s best to see a doctor if it lasts more than a day or two.
- There are a few serious causes associated with muffled hearing — If you’re struggling with multiple symptoms or find that you can’t stop worrying, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and get checked out.
Muffled hearing is a frightening thing to experience at any age, and yes, it may be cause for a quick trip to the doctor’s office. However, don’t panic just yet.
Muffled hearing, or a “muffled ear” often occurs when sound has trouble entering the outer, middle, or inner ear as efficiently as normal. Temporary muffling in the ear canal is normally a result of a blockage such as ear wax or other fluid buildup, both of which can be resolved through routine removal procedures.
However, permanent muffling can be a bit more difficult to identify. Let’s explore the various causes, symptoms, and treatments for muffled hearing.
Muffled hearing causes and their remedies
Muffled hearing is normally a consequence of fluid buildup within the inner ear, bacterial or viral infections, or certain age-related afflictions that can cause the ear to struggle receiving sounds. However, there are many remedies to these issues that you can use to ease your concern.
These treatments range from resolving the most minor conditions to more serious ones, and can offer you some respite from the worry that a muffled ear can cause.
Earwax buildup and impaction
Earwax is a very important part of keeping the inner and outer ear clean, acting as a preventive for debris and dirt entering the ear and causing unnecessary blockage. However, this wax can, at times, become compacted inside the ear canal, stunting the travel of soundwaves into the ear and causing muffling.
Severe buildup of earwax can result in ear muffling, and requires immediate medical attention to extract it. Specific symptoms of earwax impaction include ear ringing, pressure within the ear, and earaches.
Middle ear infection
Most of the blockage within the middle ear is a consequence of bacterial or viral infections. Many of these infections come from excessive fluid buildup in what is known as the eustachian tube.
Both swelling and inflammation within this tube can contribute to severe fluid buildup and lead to the muffling that you may be experiencing on a daily basis. These kinds of infections can sometimes cure themselves, but some can lead to long lasting impairment if gone untreated.
Be mindful of instances of ear pain or drainage, as these are often signs of middle ear infection.
Common illnesses and allergies
Sinus infections are also a common cause of muted hearing. This sort of infection is caused by cavities within the nasal passage that then become inflamed or swollen. These infections result in a fair amount of drainage that then lead to the muffling and congestion you may be experiencing.
The common cold is also a prevalent cause of muffled hearing, clogging the Eustachian tube that connects the ear with the nasal cavity. These kinds of cloggings normally resolve themselves, however, as clogging and muffling within the ear commonly lessen as the cold itself does.
Airplane ear is highly common for individuals who tend to travel a fair amount, whether it be for business or leisure. Changes in air pressure can affect the travel of soundwaves through the ear canal, explaining symptoms of ringing or temporary hearing loss.
If you happen to travel quite a bit then consider this a possible cause for your muffled hearing, as changes in air pressure within your environment are normally to blame. Don’t fret, this condition appears quite frequently, and like the common cold, usually resolves itself.
This can happen for a number of reasons. Earwax can block the ear canal, creating a muffled sound.
Sometimes, an insect may fly into your ear, which can create a blockage. Mucus and other types of fluid may also stop up the ear and make it difficult to hear.
There are over 200 medications that can cause muffled hearing. Some of the most common include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy medications, and high doses of aspirin. Ask your doctor about potential side effects before starting a medication.
More serious causes of muffled hearing
While a muffled ear is often no cause for concern, there could be more serious reasons for that plugged sensation you’re experiencing. If your muffled hearing persists, you should schedule an appointment with an audiologist or a medical practitioner, as it could be a sign of:
- Presbycusis. A type of hearing loss that occurs gradually as we age. This is often referred to as “age-related hearing loss” as well.
- Noise damage. If you often listen to music that’s too loud, or if you work in a loud factory, you may be suffering from noise-induced hearing loss. This can create a muffled sound in the ear, and it might indicate that you should get your hearing checked.
- Tinnitus. Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears. This doesn’t always signify hearing loss, but if it’s persistent, you may want to see a hearing specialist.
- Eardrum perforation. While this often seals itself off, a perforated eardrum can be both painful and cause muffled or unclear sound in the ear.
- Tumor. Tumors such as an acoustic neuroma can create a “plugged” sensation in the ear, as this tumor blocks blood supply to the cochlear nerve and inner ear.
- Meniere’s disease. A disorder caused by fluid backup in the ear, Meniere’s disease can create vertigo, vomiting, loss of hearing, headache, loss of balance, and sweating.
- Brain injury or head trauma. A blow to the head or a serious concussion can negatively impact your hearing. If you experience muffled hearing in the wake of head trauma, see a doctor right away.
Treatment options for muffled hearing
Most muffled hearing cases resolve on their own. However, if you’re struggling to complete everyday activities and tasks, there are several treatments that can help you. Once you identify the cause of your muffled ear, try:
- Earwax removal. Earwax drops and a rubber-bulb syringe can help you remove earwax on your own. You can also go to your doctor’s office or local clinic, where they will use a curette to remove the wax from your ear.
- Antibiotics. If you are suffering from an ear infection, antibiotics are the cure. Be sure to speak with your doctor about other medications you are taking before starting an antibiotic.
- Decongestants. If your muffled ear is the result of a sinus infection or a cold, decongestants such as Sudafed or Tylenol Cold can help relieve the pressure in your head, which may equalize the pressure in your ears. Speak to your doctor before starting a decongestant, especially if the medication is new to you.
- Surgery. While it is rare, sometimes a muffled ear may require surgery in order to increase access to the inner ear. Speak to your doctor about your options.
- Hearing aids. If your muffled ear or muffled hearing is due to hearing loss, then an audiologist will be able to diagnose your type and range of hearing loss, then prescribe a hearing aid to help you hear more clearly. If your hearing loss is mild to moderate, you may be able to purchase over-the-counter hearing aids. See our brand reviews to learn more.
Any sudden change in hearing is considered an “ear emergency.” However, while a muffled ear definitely requires attention, it shouldn’t be a cause for serious alarm, since most causes are benign or treatable.
If you find you’ve been struggling for several days, call your healthcare provider and see what treatment options are available. If you already struggle with hearing loss and experience muffling in your ear, be sure to reach out to your audiologist.