What Causes Muffled Hearing?

Middle Ear Infection

If your ear feels clogged and muffled, you may have a Middle Ear Infection, also known as Otitis Media. You may even see fluid visibly draining from the ear, and it will probably also be sensitive to touch. In more severe cases, it can cause nausea and vomit. The Middle Ear Infection can affect both children and adults, though it is more common in children. In fact, about 80% of children experience a Middle Ear Infection before they reach the age of 3. It usually lasts 2-3 days (even without medication) though some cases can go on for weeks.
Middle Ear Infections usually begin because the patient previously had an infection in their respiratory tract. As the fluid tries to drain, it causes a buildup behind the eardrum, creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. This ultimately causes both the infection and the resulting soreness and muffled hearing.
Sinus Infection/Cold

Some of the most common causes of muffled hearing are colds and sinus infections. About 30 million people experience sinus infections every year, and even more people experience common colds. The difference between the two lies mainly in the duration that symptoms last. A cold tends to last for about 10 days while a sinus infection may go on for weeks. 

The exact cause is the blockage of a small tube that runs from the middle of your ear to your nose. While colds are annoying, they don’t need to be treated by a doctor immediately. However, is symptoms persist for weeks, you may want to schedule an appointment. To decrease the irritation, consider taking a decongestant and use a humidifier. Also avoid smoking as it can further irritate your nose.
Ménière’s Disease

Ménière’s disease is rather rare with less than 200,000 cases every year, though it is one of the more serious causes of muffled hearing in one ear. Ménière’s disease usually develops in patients between 40 and 60 years old, and hearing loss can become permanent as the disease itself can last for years.

Symptoms include vertigo (you feel like you’re spinning), muffled hearing, and even ringing in the ears (tinnitus). If you suspect that you have Ménière’s disease, immediately consult a doctor. To avoid worsening your condition, don’t consume any tobacco products. For treatment, your doctor may prescribe drugs for motion sickness or nausea.

Presbycusis is age-related hearing loss and occurs crucial nerve hair cells begin to erode. Presbycusis is typically a form of sensorineural hearing loss (disorders of the inner ear or auditory nerve) and early symptoms include not being able to hear high pitched speech and sounds like birds chirping become muffled.

While most cases experience hearing loss in both ears, it can be in just one. It is one of the leading causes of hearing loss in older adults with about 40-50% of adults over 75 suffering from it. You can avoid the onset of Presbycusis by protecting your hearing throughout your life by using earplugs, particularly if your job requires you to be exposed to loud noises.
Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it possible for seniors to manage with hearing aids. Taking an annual hearing test can help predict if you are experiencing the onset of Presbycusis. If you experience any of the symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.
Ear Blockage

Ear Blockage occurs when an object (such as an insect or water) is lodged in the ear canal. Ear blockage is most common in children and it can usually be treated at home. Symptoms include immediate muffled hearing in one ear and there should not be any bleeding or discharge from the ear.

If it is water, encourage the child to tilt their head to use gravity to dislodge the water. If it is a mosquito or insect, you might need help to get it out. Do not probe the object further into the ear, though if you are sure that it is an insect (there should not be any discharge or blood coming from the ear) consider using oil to withdraw it. 

How Can You Get Rid of a Muffled Ear?

Most muffled ear cases are easily solved either with time, a decongestant or oil, though some may indicate more severe problems. Understand why you can’t hear out of one ear and treat it accordingly. If your symptoms persist, contact a medical professional to assist you.