by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote,
I have been reading your site and samples of your book on tinnitus and I think you are the person to ask.
I recently fell ill with a sinus cold and a sore throat. The cold went away after about a week. Two to three days after this, I woke up panicked because my right ear felt full, blocked, and was ringing. I went to my doctor a few days later and he found that my right ear was totally blocked with wax to the extent that he could not see my eardrum with the scope. He removed the wax by flushing it out and this seemed to help with the fullness feeling (though it is difficult to tell because my ear still does not feel right).
Since then the ringing has subsided a bit, but has not gone away. I used a Neti pot when I had my sinus trouble during my cold, and I noticed that I blew my nose so hard that some fluid made it into the right ear Eustachian tube. I also read your information concerning ototoxic effects and am worried that it might have been this also (though it is only in one ear, and I do not know if that is common with ototoxicity).
My questions are, “Is it possible that the wax was truly causing the ringing and blocked feeling all along? Is it normal for the ringing to continue for a week after having my ears cleaned? Is it likely that this ringing will go away? Is there any way to distinguish the true cause of the problem as the Neti pot vs. ear wax impaction?”
I very much appreciate the work that you do.
Anything that blocks your hearing to any degree can result in tinnitus. This means the sinus cold you had could have gotten “gunk” in your middle ear or Eustachian tube—causing some conductive hearing loss and associated tinnitus.
The wax blocking your ear canal also caused some degree of conductive hearing loss and resulting tinnitus.
Getting the wax out was a step in the right direction, but you may still have “gunk” in your middle ear or Eustachian tube that is giving you the blocked feeling and some tinnitus.
Also, something you didn’t mention—your cold virus may have gotten into your inner ear and caused some sensorineural hearing loss there, again resulting in more tinnitus.
So you have three possibilities for the blocked feeling and for your tinnitus. All three may have happened at the same time too—it’s not necessarily just one or the other.
Ototoxic drugs can affect only one ear—although this doesn’t seem logical. Some doctors actually say if it doesn’t affect both ears, it’s not from an ototoxic drug—but they are wrong when they say this. Drugs can affect either ear, or both at the same time.
Now, to answer your questions.
If wax was the sole cause of the blocked feeling in your ears and thus the tinnitus, then it should have gone away immediately or at least in a day or two.
If “gunk” in your middle ear/Eustachian tube was the cause, then it can take up to three months for it to drain away (depending how bad it is), so the blocked feeling and resulting tinnitus may take that long to go away.
If the cold virus attacked your inner ear causing sensorineural hearing loss (the blocked feeling you have) and resulting tinnitus, it may have caused temporary, or more likely, permanent hearing loss. Typically, the blocked feeling fades away in time as your brain gets used to the new normal—but the tinnitus and hearing loss remains. If this is the case, then you should learn how to successfully habituate to your tinnitus so it won’t bother you even though it is still be there. The secret is not to focus on your tinnitus. Rather, focus on the loves of your life and let your tinnitus fade into the background. (I’ve had tinnitus for more than 60 years—my ears are ringing away as I write this—but I don’t let it bother me.)
You will find a wealth of information on tinnitus in my book, When Your Ears Ring—Cope with Your Tinnitus—Here’s How.