Common Ear Problems And What You Can Do About Them

If you have ever had a problem with your ears, you’ll know that it can be tough to deal with. You are in pain and there’s no escape as it’s right there in your head. If you are struggling with hearing loss, you may be trying to mask it. But it is important that you speak to your doctors and find out what the underlying cause is.

common ear problems - woman holding her aching ear
It may simply be an issue with the way you clean your ears. A wax build up can affect your hearing  As the saying goes, never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow and definitely NOT earbuds. If you suspect your ears are full of wax, see your GP or seek help from an ear clinic in London like Auris Ear Care or your nearest town or city.

There are many different problems you can suffer within your ears, and many can be treated or the symptoms at least alleviated. Read on for more information about some of the most common ear problems – and what you can do about them.

Common ear problems

Ménière’s disease

Ménière’s disease is a fairly rare condition, the cause of which is still unconfirmed. It occurs in the inner ear and causes bouts of dizziness and vertigo. Other common symptoms include tinnitus or ringing in the ears. Attacks usually last around 1- 3 hours, but the after-effects can be felt for up to 24 hours, and sufferers often need to stop and rest in order to feel well again.

For sufferers, Ménière’s can be debilitating. They never know when it will strike, and it may cause severe attacks of dizziness and vomiting at any time. This is very stressful for the sufferer and can understandably lead to depression or anxiety as well. It can cause problems for them in all parts of their lives. This can result in a large amount of time off work, difficulty travelling and socializing.

Scientists believe that the cause may be problems with pressure in the inner ear or issues with the membrane of the ear. A more specific explanation of what happens during an attack is still being researched.

Treatment for Ménière’s differs depending on your practitioner. Some doctors advise relaxation techniques including Yoga or Tai Chi. Some people find relief in guided meditations during an attack. In America, the newest treatment is a device that pushes air pressure into the ear which seems to stop the dizziness.

Other things that may improve the condition include changing your medication as some are known to produce the symptoms of the disease. A change in diet is also often recommended, for example cutting out sodium (salt).

Extreme cases may result in surgery – although patients will have gone through balance retraining and other techniques before they get to that point.


Tinnitus or ringing in the ears is a symptom of Meniere’s disease, but it can also occur on its own. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a tinnitus sufferer. It might not sound too bad if you haven’t got it, but try to imagine what it’s like to have a constant high pitch whining in your ears that you can do nothing about.  It is incredibly frustrating.

It is more common in people over 80 years of age, but anyone can develop the condition. It’s often linked to hearing loss, although Tinnitus doesn’t cause it.  Many younger people today are beginning to suffer from tinnitus through overexposure to loud noise at rock concerts, festivals and in clubs.

There are several types of tinnitus.  The most usual kind is when the sufferer hears a whooshing, ringing or roaring in the ears. Pulsatile Tinnitus is when the sound pulses in time with your heartbeat. Suffers may also have musical hallucinations when the sound appears as fragments of songs or music.

Whichever type you think you have it’s important that you see your doctor for some advice on how to deal with this condition.

There are several things that we know can cause tinnitus. One is inner ear damage, which can be due to age, self-inflicted or due to a work-related injury.

Other causes include a build of wax, anaemia, diabetes and hypertension. It can also be a result of blood vessel issues and neck and jaw problems.

Your doctor may recommend a range of therapies that may help you cope with tinnitus. Firstly, CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy should be considered. Although not a cure, it is designed to help you reframe the problem and find working solutions to cope better with it in your daily life.

Secondly, Oticon hearing aids with noise devices (maskers) may help, as these can cancel out the noise that you are experiencing in your ears. Many tinnitus sufferers also use white or pink noise to drown out the sound at night, which allows them some peace and makes it easier to get off to sleep.

Tinnitus is a frustrating disease with no real cure and most of the therapies involved learning to live with the problems. They centre around finding relief where you can and dealing with the emotional and mental fallout. This is why many sufferers are referred for relational training and counselling.

You can read about my personal experience with Tinnitus and how it affects my life here.

Ear Barotrauma

Ear barotrauma or stretched ear is a condition which occurs when the air pressure in the middle ear and the ear canal is unequal. This causes the eardrum to bend inwards, which can lead to bleeding, bruising pain or even a rupture.

This can occur due to a blockage in the eustachian tubes. which normally help to regulate the air pressure in the ears. They let out additional air to the middle ear when necessary but if they get blocked for some reason, this does not happen and the eardrum can be damaged.

Ear barotrauma is only an issue when you experience air pressure changes. So diving, flying and other activities where your ears can pop should be avoided. These include travelling by tube and climbing at altitude, which can be risky if your eustachian tubes are blocked.

Blockages in the eustachian tubes can occur from tumours, scarring, and infections like colds or allergies. If you are suffering from a cold or allergy and have to do an activity where you will subject yourself to a change in air pressure, your doctor will recommend a decongestant. You can also chew or suck sweets to help alleviate the pressure or do specific exercises which will balance the pressure in your ears.

Ear Infections

Most of us remember having an ear infection as a child and the pain from these can be very severe and very unpleasant. They can be caused by either bacteria or a virus and there are some things that can lead to an increased susceptibility to infection in the ear. These include smoking, inflamed adenoids, colds and sinus infections. There is also a condition called swimmer’s ear which is caused by residual water in the ear, which helps bacteria to grow.

Depending on the type of infection a range of treatments may be prescribed by your doctor. Ear drops are a common solution to swimmer’s ear. If you smoke, then you will be asked to stop. Antibiotics can also help if it is a bacterial infection.

You can prevent further infection by keeping your ears dry and away from infection carriers such as your fingers. It is essential to keep your ears as clean as possible. It is also important to remember that cotton buds should not be inserted into the ear canal. They are just for clearing the outer folds of the ear. By inserting them into the canal, you can introduce bacteria that will then develop into a full-blown ear infection.

There is also a risk that inserting them too far may puncture the eardrum leading to lasting damage. Don’t do it!

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is something that many of us expect to experience with age. However, it can occur for a number of reasons at any time in our lives. I have mild hearing loss which, it is thought, is inherited from my relatives on my mother’s side.

There are two main types  – conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. There is also a third which is a combination of the two.

Conductive hearing loss is caused by damage to the ear, so the sound waves are not passed to the inner ear effectively. This can be due to a blockage, a tumour or a build-up of wax.

Sensorineural hearing loss is the type most seen as we age, and is due to the destruction of the tiny hairs in the eardrum that pick up and amplify sounds. It can also be caused by trauma such as a very loud noise like an explosion.

Before hearing loss can be treated effectively, it needs to be identified and classified by a health professional. This is because there could be a number of underlying reasons why your hearing is deteriorating. Without knowing what the causes are, treatment is unlikely to be successful.

It could be that the sufferer has a perforated eardrum, Meniere’s disease or meningitis. There is even a condition where skin clumps in the ear and affects hearing called cholesteatoma.

Each cause will need to be looked at individually and treated appropriately. Some people can benefit from a hearing aid, especially if they have a Sensorineural hearing loss. Others will need surgery, and some may need to find a way to cope with the loss of their hearing to continue to lead happy lives.


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