Ear Fullness

Ear fullness is a common complaint among Meniere’s sufferers. It is one of the key indicators of Meniere’s along with a specific kind of hearing loss and vertigo attacks. What it feels like is hard to describe.

If you have ever flown in a plane or gone up in a tall building, climbed a mountain or gone down to the seashore from a high elevation, you have likely had a feeling of pressure inside your head. A pressure that is directly behind the ear canal. Frequent travelers know the feeling and what to do about it. Pulling on an earlobe, working the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) by shifting the jaw back and forth until the ear pops, chewing gum, etc. There are many ways to get the canals behind your ear, the eustachian tubes, to clear so that the pressure in the inner ear becomes equal to the pressure on the outside of your ear and the discomfort goes away.

Ear fullness is like that, but not like that. Imagine that kind of discomfort elevated to a level of pain that is very hard to ignore, and then imagine that you can’t get the pain that feels like it is right behind your eardrum to go away no matter how hard you chew gum, work your jaw, etc. This pain goes on for days, sometimes for weeks.

You can’t get the pain to go away, the pressure to equalize, because the pain doesn’t come from a pressure imbalance behind the eardrum. It comes from the fluid-filled chambers of the inner ear itself, the cochlea, and the fluid imbalance that produces all the other symptoms of Meniere’s disease.

The first time the ear fullness presented itself, I sat in the shower for an hour or more trying to make what I thought was a plugged eustachian tube clear itself. Instead I induced a multi-day vertigo spell by rupturing one of the vessels in the cochlea of my left ear. As you can probably imagine, I don’t recommend that form of treatment.

The next time ear fullness presented itself a few years later, I had to resist the temptation to gouge the ear out with a sharp implement. I understandably didn’t want to look like Vincent Van Gogh, who might very well have suffered from a similar affliction. I had access to a sauna at the time and I spent far too many hours sitting in it just hoping that the pain would ease off. Ease off just a little.

The pressure never did ease off. The sauna did do wonders for clearing my sinuses, though.

There is no known way to reduce this pressure in the ear. It is possible that early treatment with intratympanic injections of steroids can reduce the pressure and prevent hearing loss in a newly affected ear, but it is not a universally successful treatment, and it carries potential hazards that make it an undesirable treatment for routine incidents of pain. Hazards like permanent deafness and severe instances of vertigo.

What long term treatment of the symptom looks like remains an unanswered question for me. I haven’t found anything that will work long term for ear pressure aside from surgery. Endolymphatic shunt surgery should work to ease the pressure and not destroy the hearing mechanism but I need to look into that more than I have before I decide whether it is worth pursuing. In the meantime I try to limit my self-medicating doses to really bad days and to not let the symptoms get so bad that they reduce my quality of life. It’s a balancing act.

I’ve been having ear pressure problems myself lately. I took a dose of guaifenesin/pseudoephedrine yesterday. The pressure is down to manageable levels today but I took another dose anyway. If tomorrow is the same I’ll stop for a few days and see what happens next. This is what self-managed chronic illness is like.

I did a little shuffling of the last few paragraphs of this article and the Sudafed article. I’m still pissed about them coming after my allergy medications.