It can sometimes be challenging to determine the exact cause of ear pressure. It could be from a sinus infection or an ear infection. But in some cases, ear pressure could also be caused by hearing loss.
It's important to diagnose the correct cause of the ear pressure, as the potential treatment options are vastly different.
Here is a brief list and explanation of some of the common causes of a pressure sensation in the ears.
Understanding the Pressure Sensation in the Ear
Many individuals have experienced ear pressure at some point. It can best be described as feeling like you've been in an airplane and your ears just won't pop. There isn't necessarily pain associated with the pressure. Instead, it is often considered bothersome.
It’s important to understand that the ear itself isn't always the cause of the pressure. The most common cause of ear pressure comes from a upper respiratory infection or sinus infection. In those situations, patients feel pressure pulling off the ear drum, with or without fluid.
4 Common Causes of Ear Pressure
- Ear infection. This is the classic with ear pain and hearing loss and may accompany an upper respiratory illness.
- Sinus infection/nasal congestion. Nasal congestion associated with allergy or sinus infection can block the drainage pathway from the ear into the throat and create ear pressure and possibly hearing loss if fluid develops in the middle ear.
- Musculoskeletal inflammation or pain. Interestingly, for adults, the most common reason for ear pain without hearing loss is TMD, also known as TMJ, or problems with the jaw joint just in front of the ear. The brain will often interpret this as an ear problem when it may be related to tight muscles and grinding or clenching of the teeth. This usually responds to use of a bite guard and warm compresses with head/neck/face/shoulder massage therapy.
- Hearing loss. It is very common for hearing loss to present as a sensation of pressure in the ear. Hearing loss can make one feel that the ear just needs to pop and clear and all will be well. This is only true if the hearing loss is related to pressure or fluid affecting the motion of the eardrum in response to sound. When hearing loss is caused by nerve damage, no amount of popping or clearing will clear things up.
How to Alleviate Ear Pressure
If ear pressure does not go away in a week or so you may need to be examined by an ENT physician who can determine what the cause is if you haven't been able to do so yourself.
Certainly if you have allergy/nasal congestion a trial of decongestant medication or nasal steroid is reasonable. If you know you grind your teeth, a night guard and massage/warm compresses would make sense. Otherwise, it may take a professional exam and possibly a hearing test to get to the bottom of it.