Why Is My Hearing Muffled?

If you've noticed that you often need to turn up the volume on a TV or that you have a problem hearing others speak, many things could be the reason for it.

Some have easy fixes, but others are more serious.Most causes of hearing loss don’t last long but those that last can be more serious. See your doctor if your hearing doesn't get better in a few days.

Is It Earwax?

Earwax (cerumen) helps protect your ears from infection. When you talk or chew, you help move the wax from the inside to the outside of your ear where it dries and flakes off.

Cleaning inside your ear canal, especially with cotton swabs, can push wax deeper into the ear. That can cause a wax buildup (cerumen impaction) that can make it hard for you to hear with the affected ear. Other things can cause earwax buildup as well. For example, the shape of the canals can make it hard to clear the wax, and hearing aids or earplugs also can cause it.

You may also notice:

  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Pain
  • Ringing (tinnitus)
  • Itchiness
  • Discharge
  • Odor

A few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or hydrogen peroxide in your ear can soften the wax and help clear it out. If that doesn't work, see your doctor. He may use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water to try to flush it out or use special tools to remove the wax and improve your hearing.

Is It Age-Related?

Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is very common among seniors. About 1 in 3 people between 65 and 74 have it. Nearly half of those over 75 have it.

The main reason for the loss is that over time the inner-ear structures that allow us to hear start to wear down. Other causes include:

Age-related hearing loss and the ability to hear high frequency sounds affects both ears. It can happen so slowly that you don't realize your hearing is worse. If you or a family member suspects you've lost some hearing, have it tested. An audiologist can diagnose, treat, and help you manage hearing loss.

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Is It Airplane Ear?

That feeling of pressure inside your ears when an airplane is takes off and lands is called airplane ear. It happens when the air pressure in your middle ear and the air pressure around you aren't in synch. 

Airplane ear doesn't just happen on planes. Anything that limits the way your eustachian tube -- which helps your ear keep the right air pressure -- works can increase your risk. Some common activities and conditions that can lead to airplane ear include:

A mild case of airplane ear can cause muffled hearing or some hearing loss, a feeling of "stuffiness" inside your ear, and possibly pain. goes away when you yawn, swallow, or chew gum. But if it lasts more than a few hours or seems severe, call your doctor. She may recommend decongestant sprays or pills, antihistamines, or over-the-counter pain relievers.

Is It Noise Damage?

You may have a hard time hearing after going to a concert but wake up just fine the next morning. Or you may notice your hearing isn't good after years of working in a noisy factory. These are both examples of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

NIHL happens when there is a short blast of loud noise or when you’re exposed to loud noise for a long time. Constant exposure to loud noises can cause high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss  The sounds can damage the inside of your ear and lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss. Common causes include:

  • One-time exposure to an intense sound, like an explosion
  • Long-term exposure to loud sounds, like in a factory
  • Target shooting/hunting without proper ear protection
  • Listening to loud music through headphones
  • Going to loud concerts

There's no treatment to bring back the hearing that's been lost. To protect what you have, wear earplugs or earmuffs around loud noise, and talk to your doctor so you can avoid medications that may cause hearing loss, such as high doses of aspirin.

Is It Meniere's Disease?

This is a disorder of your inner ear that can cause permanent damage. Symptoms include hearing loss, ringing in your ears, vertigo, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. It usually happens in only one ear.

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The hearing loss tends to come and go at first. Eventually, some of the loss can be permanent.

Doctors aren't sure what causes Meniere's disease. One theory is that it may come from a large buildup of fluid in your inner ear. Reasons for this might include:

If you suspect you have Meniere's disease, make an appointment with your doctor. Medications and other treatments can help with symptoms.

Is It Tinnitus?

Your hearing could be muffled because of ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling, or clicking that isn't really there, known as tinnitus. It's one of the most common health issues in the U.S. -- about 15% of Americans have some form of it.

Tinnitus isn't a disease -- it's a symptom of some other health condition. More than 200 disorders can cause it. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Age-related hearing loss
  • Certain drugs, including some antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and water pills or diuretics
  • Common cold
  • Earwax buildup
  • Head or neck injury
  • Meniere's disease
  • Noise-induced hearing loss
  • Sinus pressure
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ (an issue with your lower jaw where it connects to your skull)

Depending on the condition that causes it, tinnitus can go away on its own or you might have it for a long time. There's no specific cure for it, but some treatments can help. These include sound therapy, behavioral therapy, and hearing aids in the case of hearing loss.

If your hearing does not improve, make sure to see your doctor to find out what it is and what to do about it.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Lisa Bernstein, MD on August 1, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery: "Ear Wax and Care."

American Hearing Research Foundation: "Ear Wax."

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: "Causes of Hearing Loss in Adults."

American Tinnitus Association: "Causes," "Treatment Options," "Understanding the Facts."

Cleveland Clinic: "Cerumen Impaction."

Mayo Clinic: "Airplane Ear," "Meniere's Disease."

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: "Age-Related Hearing Loss," "Noise-Induced Hearing Loss."

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