What Can Cause a Feeling of Fullness in the Ear?

Medically Reviewed By Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP

Certain conditions can cause you to experience a feeling of fullness in the ear. These conditions include ear infections, ear wax or fluid buildup, or air pressure changes. In some cases, ear fullness may lead to impaired hearing. Depending on the underlying cause, you may also experience symptoms like fever, pain, or itching. It’s important to get a firm diagnosis to prevent potential complications like the spread of infection or permanent loss of hearing.

This article discusses possible causes of a feeling of fullness in the ear, other symptoms that may occur, and what treatments doctors may recommend.

What causes a feeling of fullness in the ear?

A closeup of a person's ear
Mykhailo Onyshkiv/Stocksy United

Ear fullness can be caused by infection, especially when accompanied by cold and flu-like symptoms. The feeling of fullness is the result of a blocked Eustachian tube, which connects your throat to your ear and allows the middle ear to drain fluid.

If fluid builds up, bacteria or viruses may infect Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source the middle ear, leading to pain and swelling. This is a condition known as otitis media with effusion, or a middle ear infection with fluid buildup.

Other infectious causes of ear fullness include:

Other possible causes

A feeling of fullness in the ear can have other causes, including:

  • ear wax buildup
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction, which is more common Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in children but can also affect adults
  • foreign body in the outer ear canal
  • acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor of the nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain
  • barotrauma, which refers to effects caused by sudden or extreme changes in air pressure
  • exposure to loud noises, such as:
    • drilling
    • hammering
    • fireworks
    • music
  • hay fever or allergic reaction to:
    • animal dander
    • dust
    • cosmetics
    • pollen

Learn more about the signs of ear problems.

Serious or life threatening causes

Ear fullness resulting from a cold or flu that blocks the Eustachian tube may lead to an ear infection. In some cases, this feeling of fullness may be a symptom of mastoiditis, a serious or life threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting.

In addition, although it is rare Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , some people experiencing a heart attack may have ear pain or fullness.

An illustration showing the major parts of the outer, middle, and inner ear
Medical illustration by Maya Chastain

What other signs and symptoms might occur with a feeling of fullness in the ear?

Depending on the underlying cause, you may experience other signs and symptoms in addition to the feeling of fullness, clogging, or congestion.

Other ear symptoms

Ear fullness may accompany other symptoms affecting the ears, including:

  • pain or tenderness around the ear or in the bone behind the ear
  • itching
  • pus or other secretions draining from the ear
  • discoloration, warmth, or swelling

Systemic symptoms

A feeling of fullness in the ear may occur alongside symptoms affecting other parts of your body, including:

How do doctors diagnose the cause of a feeling of fullness in the ear?

To diagnose the underlying cause, your doctor will ask you several questions related to your ear fullness, including:

  • How long have you had a feeling of ear fullness?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Are you experiencing any kind of discharge from your ear?
  • Have you spent a lot of time outdoors lately?
  • Have you been scuba diving or swimming?
  • Have you recently been exposed to sudden changes in altitude or air pressure?
  • Have you been in an environment where you were exposed to extremely loud noise, such as at a construction site or rock concert?

Your doctor will also examine your ear with an otoscope, which can allow Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source them to detect underlying conditions like otitis media or ear wax buildup. They can also extract some of the ear wax to examine it.

Additional testing may be necessary if your doctor suspects that a condition in another part of your body may be causing your symptoms, such as an upper respiratory infection or hay fever.

What are the treatments for a feeling of fullness in the ear?

Treatment for a feeling of fullness in the ear will vary depending on the underlying cause.

For example, doctors may prescribe Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source oral antibiotics if you have a middle ear infection. If there is a hole in the eardrum or ear tubes or if you have an outer ear infection, they may prescribe ear drops.

Recurrent ear infections may require surgery to insert a tube, which can help prevent fluid accumulation. Additional medications, such as antivirals or decongestants, may be needed if infection in another part of the body is involved.

If you have a foreign body in your ear canal or a buildup of ear wax, your doctor may remove the obstruction by flushing it out with water, using suction, or using tools like forceps.

Once your doctor has identified the underlying cause of your symptoms, they can recommend the appropriate treatment.

Learn more about home remedies for ear pain and earache.

What are some potential complications of a feeling of fullness in the ear?

Ear fullness may resolve on its own, but it is important to determine its underlying cause and rule out a serious infection. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan to reduce the risk of potential complications, including:

When should you see a doctor about a feeling of fullness in the ear?

Although some ear infections and other causes of ear fullness may resolve on their own or with antibiotics, some symptoms warrant immediate medical attention. Seek immediate medical care if you have serious symptoms, such as:

Summary

A feeling of fullness in the ear can result from various conditions. Contact your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP
Last Review Date: 2023 Jul 6
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