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Suddenly feeling plugged in one ear: What To Do

The ear is very sensitive, and rightly so! It's designed so that even small changes can be felt. The sensitivity is there for a reason; there are delicate and important structures in the ear. Before you do anything, determine the following:

  1. Do you use a Q-Tip to clean your ear? If so, you may have packed wax into the ear canal. Have your Audiologist perform a quick otoscopic check. He or she might perform tympanometry to determine if the wax has created a complete plug or not. 
  2. Were you at a loud concert, sporting event, or party within the past 24 hours? Was your ear near the source of the blast of sound? If so, you might have TTS, or "temporary threshold shift." The danger with TTS is that your ear may recover, but not completely. You may have some permanent damage from the sound blast. Make an appointment for a hearing evaluation so your thresholds can be documented. 
  3. Do you feel vertigo or imbalance in addition to the plugged sensation? If so, make an appointment right away for a hearing evaluation with an Audiologist. The hearing evaluation should be followed immediately by an appointment with an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist who will need to look at the audiogram and perform an exam. If there is a long wait for an appointment, tell them about your symptoms and expect to be seen sooner. See https://www.hearbright.com/adult-diagnostic-audiologic-evaluation for a description of what to expect. 
  4. Do you feel pain along with the plugged sensation? Follow the instructions on number 2 above. 
  5. Do you have tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, humming, roaring) in your ear along with the plugged sensation? The tinnitus can indicate many possible conditions. Make appointments with your Audiologist and an ENT per number 2 above as soon as possible, but remember that the tinnitus can also be present if you have a wax plug. 
  6. Does the plugged sensation "come and go?" This may indicate a wax plug, which can expand with moisture or shrink with dryness, or it can indicate other medical conditions. Make an appointment with your Audiologist to determine if you have a wax plug. 
  7. Remember, you can have more than one condition at a time. For example, you can have a wax plug but you can also have a medical condition that your ENT will need to treat.