Why does echo in the ear occur?

Most people are unaware that for hearing to occur, a series of complex steps have to take place to change sound waves in the air into electrical signals. When sound waves enter the outer ear, they travel through the ear canal, leading to the eardrum. If the path of the sound waves gets blocked for some reason, an echo can occur. A build-up of earwax, for instance, could potentially prevent the sound waves from getting through. 

A clogged ear, however, is not the only possible cause. Below we will review some of the most common reasons.  

What are the most common causes of echoing in the ear?

Build-up of earwax
Excess wax is one of the most common causes. Blockages can happen when your glands make more earwax than required; the wax can harden and block the ear canal. You can also form a build-up by inadvertently pushing wax deep into the ear canal when using cotton swabs or Q-tips to clean your ears. 
Ear infections
An infection can occur in different parts of the ear canal. The symptoms can be distinct and may require different treatment approaches, whether it is in the inner ear, the middle ear (otitis media), or the outer ear (otitis externa). However, all three types can cause post-infection echo. 
Acoustic neuroma
Acoustic neuroma is also called vestibular schwannoma. It is a non-cancerous and typically slow-growing tumor that develops on the main nerve connecting your inner ear to your brain. Pressure from the tumor can cause hearing loss, ringing in the ear, and even an echoing sensation.
Presbycusis is a progressive sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) that is irreversible. SNHL is widespread, with close to 90 percent of hearing loss falling into this category. Although SNHL is permanent, the degree of damage can vary from mild, moderate, or severe. Unlike some other types of hearing loss, presbycusis affects both ears to the same degree. The condition develops over time due to the damage of the inner ear's cochlea or other related structures. 

Many people with this condition also experience tinnitus. Tinnitus or ringing in the ear is a common symptom of damage to the tiny sensory hair cells of the inner ear. The echoing that may occur is sometimes described as whistling, hissing and buzzing and may be caused by tinnitus. 
Sinus infection
Sinusitis is an inflammation of your sinus cavities. Some hallmark signs are mucus, redness, swelling, and pain. It is not unusual to experience sensations in the ear, including echoing. The two types of sinusitis are acute and chronic sinusitis. 

Generally, acute sinus infections result from catching the flu, cold, or another respiratory virus. When these viruses attack the sinuses, they cause them to swell and lead to a narrowing of the cavities. When this narrowing happens, mucus quickly fills the sinuses, which become blocked, creating a breeding ground for viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Finally, sinusitis develops, resulting in painful pressure and headache.

Chronic sinusitis is a sinus infection lasting longer than three weeks. You should not delay seeking medical attention if your symptoms do not resolve or get worse over time. 
Diplacusis is a hearing disorder that is also known as double hearing. Essentially, if you have this condition, you perceive multiple sounds from a single stimulus.

There are three types of double hearing:

Diplacusis dysharmonica results from a difference in perceived pitch. It can have several causes, most commonly an ear infection, loud noise exposure, or head injury. 

Diplacusis echoica is due to a delay in the perception of sound. This means that when sound enters the ears, one ear hears and interprets it faster than the other ear. As a result, the brain cannot interpret the sounds as one sound, resulting in an echo effect. The most likely causes of this type of diplacusis are outer and middle ear issues.

Mixed diplacusis is when both forms of double hearing occur simultaneously. The best way to describe this sensation is hearing an echo with a slightly different pitch. 
Many people suffer from allergy and hay fever symptoms during the spring season. Besides itchy eyes and a stuffy nose, you can experience allergy-related hearing loss, tinnitus, and even echoing in the ear. The excess fluid building up in the ear can create uncomfortable pressure, discomfort, and hearing loss. 
Ototoxic medications
Some medications can adversely affect the nerve cells of your inner ear. For example, chemotherapy drugs, certain antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin can all contribute to the development of an echoing sensation in your ear.

How to treat an echo in the ear?

The best course of action to take depends on the underlying cause. For instance, if built-up wax creates a blockage in your auditory system, it is a good idea to get the blockage removed. An audiologist or another hearing care professional can help you safely clean your ear canal. 

If a painful ear infection or sinusitis is at the root of your hearing issues, it is best to seek medical attention. Doctors frequently prescribe antibiotics to treat these conditions.
Consider getting a hearing test done to get a professional assessment of your hearing problems. If appropriate, your hearing professional may recommend a hearing aid to address your concerns. Hearing aids can be life-changing, especially if you have a significant degree of hearing loss.  

Finally, protect your ears from exposure to loud noises. Wear ear protection, such as earplugs, to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. You should not use the information as a substitute for, nor should it replace, professional medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.