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Ear pressure may feel like one or both ears are muffled, as though hearing is slightly impaired. It may easily resolve on its own in some cases, or it could require treatment, depending on cause. When ear pressure is caused by air pressure changes, it can usually be resolved chewing gum, swallowing, or yawning; if you have a cold or allergies, taking decongestants or antihistamines may help. For other conditions, like ear infections, a trip to the doctor may be needed. There are a number of things that may cause ear pressure, so before you attempt to solve it on your own, you may want to have a medical professional examine your ears to see if there is an obvious solution.
One very common cause of ear pressure is changes in barometric pressure. When people change altitude quickly, problems can occur in the Eustachian tubes and the ear can feel blocked. Many people have this sensation when they're on airplanes, and some will even feel it if they quickly climb a mountain in a vehicle. Divers also can experience extreme ear pain when they descend into water.
Many people will have this problem automatically correct itself once they return to standard elevation levels, but sometimes ear damage can occur. The condition is usually best treated by chewing gum, swallowing, or yawning, which helps the Eustachian tubes open up; taking decongestants or antihistamines prior to ascents or descents can also help, especially if you have a cold or allergies. Some people find that holding the nostrils shut and breathing out gently through the nose, especially while tipping the head back and away from the affected side, can solve the problem. Ongoing ear pain that does not resolve itself warrants a doctor's visit, however.
Middle ear infections may create ear pressure, and these may require some help to fix. Antibiotics are the most common way in which pressure caused by infections is resolved; once the infection is treated, pressure problems should go away. In other cases, you might not have a infection but may have chronic sinus issues or allergies that make your ears feel full and blocked. These may be treated with decongestants, nasal rinses, or antihistamines that help reduce sinus swelling due to mucus accumulation or irritation.
Sometimes, ear pressure can be caused when the ear has too much wax build-up. Those who use cotton swabs should beware if they use these to clean out the ears, which is never advised. From time to time, people will knock a bit of wax right onto the eardrum, which may create a feeling of pressure or the sensation that they can't hear out of one ear. Other times, the whole ear becomes blocked with wax and creates muffling and pressure.
There are earwax cleaners on the market. These usually involve using an oil to break up the wax, and then irrigating the ear with a solution to clean out the wax. Some people have waxier ears than others and may benefit from doing a cleaning once every few weeks, or as often as a doctor advises. A medical professional can also use a special tool to remove the wax by hand.
Another potential cause of ear pressure is swelling of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), also known as the jaw joint. Seeing a dentist may be the best way to address problems caused by this joint, although it's not always known why swelling of the jaw joint creates pressure in the ears. An additional rare cause is actually the result of the bone in the ear forming improperly. This is called osteosclerosis, and it can sometimes cause tinnitus or ringing in the ears as well.