Why is my hearing muffled?

7 Reasons Why You May Have Muffled Hearing

Are you worried that you may have muffled hearing?

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There are few things in life more alarming than realising you are losing your hearing. 

It is something we rely heavily on every single day, something we take for granted but ultimately something that is painfully fragile. Around the world, almost 500 million people suffer from hearing loss and the World Health Organisation expects that number to rise to almost 1 billion people by 2050 – by then, one-tenth of the population.

The great danger of hearing loss is that it sneaks up on us and by the time we realise we are suffering from muffled hearing it can be too late to rectify it fully. How do you know it is happening to you though? What are the symptoms and what are the best forms of treatment if you do think you are suffering from hearing loss?

Well, you can start by doing your own hearing test on yourself. Ask yourself if you are gradually turning up the volume on your devices or on the TV – is that something you can measure and keep track of? What about ringing in your ears or tinnitus, to give it its medical name? That is another classic sign of a potential problem. 

Or do one or both of your ears feel full, almost as if they have been stuffed full of cotton wool? 

If you have some or all of those symptoms, then it’s likely you are suffering from muffled hearing. Now, damage to your hearing can be a generic issue, it can be down to an ear infection or recurrent ear infections. It can be down to the simple fact that you have mistreated your ears and exposed them to excessive noise. And sometimes it can simply be down to old age. 

Action On Hearing says that in the UK alone, there are around 11 million people with some form hearing loss, 50,000 of them children. While around 900,000 UK residents have, what is classed as, severe or profound hearing loss. 

More often than not the cause comes down to ear wax or another form of obstruction in the ear. But let’s look in more detail at what might be causing muffled ear. And the symptoms that might help you recognise it. 

1.Abnormal growths

One of the many reasons you may have muffled ear is because your ear is blocked by wax, by some kind of fluid trapped in your ear or by a small tumour called a cholesteatoma. These are made are non-cancerous and tend to be made up of tissue or skin and it usually occurs close to the eardrum. The best way to recognise it, is firstly that it is likely to affect one, rather than both ears. You may also notice a discharge of fluid from the ear, that can sometimes carry with it an unpleasant smell. Your ear, as with most cases of muffled ear, will feel full or as if you need to pop it (as when you are on a plane) and you may also be suffering from tinnitus. 

If you leave the problem and hope it goes anyway on its own, it is likely to worsen and the symptoms can develop, with muscle weakness on the affected side of your face being one to watch out for, as well as problems with your balance and potential feelings of dizziness. If you think any of the symptoms apply to you then please contact your GP for a check-up because if left this can become a serious problem. 

2. Ear Barotrauma 

Do you travel a lot? If so, you may have that feeling that even when you get off a plane you can’t quite release the pressure in your ears to get it back to normal. This is a well-known condition and occurs when the eustachian tubes that connect your ears to your sinuses get blocked by something. That may be because you are blowing your nose too hard, forcing fluid into that system or it could just be bad luck. But once those tubes are blocked, they don’t handle changes in pressure very well at all because your middle ear is essentially blocked. 

When this happens, it is known as ear barotrauma and can last for a few days or for much longer, if you are unlucky. The main symptoms are that feeling of pressure in your ear and sometimes that extends to pain in your ear caused by the pressure building. It is often something that kids experience more readily than adults simply because their tubes are narrower and more easily blocked. If your symptoms last for more than a week after a flight or if you have been diving while on holiday, then go and see your GP. 

3. Ear Infections 

These are the most common and widespread reason that we end up with muffled hearing. These can be caused by common colds and viruses, blocked noses and flu that then lead to problems in the ear. Most of us will have experienced an ear infection at one time or another and will recognise symptoms such as inflammation of the ear, feeling genuinely unwell and running a high temperature. On most occasions, the infection will pass without the need for antibiotics but if you do find the problem lingering on then do visit your GP because infections can cause long term problems.

4. Perforated or burst eardrum 

This is a serious issue and one that may require surgery to fix the tear or hole in your eardrum. There are two types of operation that you can have to put this condition right. The first is to patch it up, with something called a myringoplasty, a relatively minor operation that can be done with only a local anaesthetic. The more serious procedure is a tympanoplasty which is needed for more serious damage and requires a general anaesthetic. 

5. Glue ear

The medical term for this condition is Otitis Media with effusion and can often cause muffled hearing caused by fluid becoming trapped in your middle ear, forcing all the air out of it. The fluid sits in your ear and stops the sound vibrations making progress along the tubes and leaves you hearing a muffled sound. The symptoms of glue ear are regular popping of the ears and that same feeling of a full ear. 

Glue ear is particularly common for children, who often find it harder to describe how their symptoms actually feel. Things to look out for are kids who are having difficulty interacting with other children or struggling to pay attention. 

6. Meniere’s disease

As we have seen there is a wide range of potential reasons for your muffled ear, but one that is easier to spot is Meniere’s disease because it is accompanied by vertigo or dizziness as well as tinnitus. This is a problem that affects the inner ear and feels different from the rest of the symptoms because of that spinning feeling that is immediately recognisable. 

7. Noise damage 

The final reason may simply be down to damaging your ears with loud noises. That might be because you haven’t protected your ears from loud machinery you work with or loud music. If you do think that is behind your problems with muffled ears, then consider taking immediate action and using earplugs to prevent any further damage.

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