Pressure in the ears can be a sign of numerous ailments, ranging from mild sinus pressure to a loss of hearing. The feeling can be truly physical or it can be a psychological sensation. Anytime you sense painful pressure in your ears, consult a doctor immediately to ensure your ears are not becoming damaged.
A cold, flu or sinus infection will fill the open passages in your head with mucous. Your head will feel heavy, sometimes painful, and your hearing may become muffled from blocked passages. You will feel as if there is pressure in your ears whether or not there actually is. The muffled hearing only adds to the sensation. A nasal decongestant will help eliminate mucous build-up and reduce pressure in the ears.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Flying in a plane or driving through the mountains can create pressure in the ears. Changing altitude will shift the pressure outside of your body. Usually, the pressure outside of your ears is the same as the pressure inside your ears. If there is a drop or rise in pressure, the Eustachian tube, or the connection between the middle ear and back of your nose and throat, will work to balance out this pressure. Swallowing or yawning will open the Eustachian tube in your ear and allow the pressure to rebalance. This will be accompanied by a slight popping sound in your ear. However, colds, allergies, sinus pressure and barotraumas, or injury to the ear from a rapid pressure change, can cause a fluid build-up in the Eustachian tube, creating a sensation of pressure and slight hearing loss. The sensation will continue until the fluid dries in the ear or is extracted by a doctor.
Middle Ear Infection
A middle ear infection will also cause pressure and pain in the ears from fluid build-up in the middle ear canal. The canal is usually an air-filled space. Once infected, the space will fill with pus for one to four weeks until it eventually dries and is replaced again by air.
Most ear infections are caused by Eustachian tube dysfunction. When you have a cold or flu and mucous is draining past your nasal and ear canals, a malfunctioning Eustachian tube may be left open, which can cause the ear canal fill with pus.
If you have suffered hearing loss, it may feel like pressure in the ears. This is a psychological sensation since there is no pressure in the ears, only muffled sounds. This muffled hearing may remind you of stuffiness in the ears during a cold, leading you to believe that there is pressure in your ears.
When to see an ENT
See your doctor if you are experiencing pressure in the ears. If your doctor's prescription does not resolve the problem, or if he or she cannot find fluid in your ears or any reason for the pressure, make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.