Ear Fullness ("Stuffy Ears")

The sensation of aural fullness ("stuffy ears" or "fluid in the ears") is one of the most common reasons that bring adult patients in to the ENT office for evaluation. Patients may have been told that they have fluid in their ears. While this may be true in some adults, and is common in children, the majority of adults do not actually have fluid in their ears.  Their perception of fullness is most likely due to other pathology. One way to evaluate whether your sensation of aural fullness is caused by actual fluid in the middle ear is to assess whether your hearing has decreased.  If you do not have hearing changes, it is very unlikely that you have fluid in your ears unless it is a very, very long-standing problem.

The workup for aural fullness can be straightforward, but often the cause is difficult to determine and sometimes a specific cause cannot be found. The only way to determine the cause for this complaint is with a thorough head and neck exam by an ENT physician. Sometimes, diagnostic testing may be indicated. Some causes of the sensation of aural fullness include eustachian tube dysfunction, TMJ disorders, cerumen impaction, acoustic neuromas, sinusitis, cholesteotomas or other tumors/masses in the ear, a foreign body in the ear, nasopharyngeal cancer, or other more occult pathologies.