Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Plugged-up feeling in an ear

Q. I have a plugged left ear problem. It usually starts about 4 p.m. and lasts about three to four hours. I cough, clear my throat, yawn, close my nostrils and blow — nothing seems to help.

A. It seems like you have had this problem for a while, so my first suggestion is to see a doctor and start the process that would lead to a diagnosis and proper treatment.

The diagnosis of almost any ear problem starts with a few basic questions. One of the most obvious is also one of the most important: have you lost any hearing? Sometimes people experience hearing loss as a plugged-up feeling, so some tests may be necessary to sort that issue out. Doctors also ask patients with ear complaints about dizziness, pain, ringing in the ears, or fluid discharge. The answers help steer testing and other diagnostic detective work. Ear problems with dizziness — the room-spinning kind that's the main feature of true vertigo — might merit investigation into whether someone has Ménière's disease, a rare condition caused by an imbalance of fluid in the inner ear. Ear pain is a good clue that the problem is a middle ear infection. Ear pain with a moist discharge is a common symptom of swimmer's ear.

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