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Why Is My Hearing Muffled?

Realising that your hearing feels muffled even though nothing appears to be inside your ear canal can be confusing. Whether the issue affects just one or both of your ears, you may notice that you often need to turn up the TV volume or have difficulties understanding speech.

This could be caused by various factors. Some of those can be fixed quite easily, but others are more serious and may require medical attention to prevent further complications.


Muffled hearing doesn’t necessarily occur on its own. It’s often accompanied by a range of additional symptoms, some of which include:

  • Ear pain
  • Itchiness
  • Noticeable odour
  • Discharge from the ear(s)
  • A feeling of fullness
  • Ringing/buzzing sound

Impacted Earwax

One of the most common reasons for muffled hearing is impacted cerumen (earwax). Although earwax usually dries up and falls out on its own, sometimes the ear produces an excessive amount which can build up inside the ear canal and cause a blockage. If you think an earwax build-up is causing your hearing to be muffled, it is essential that you do not try to remove it on your own, since you could push the earwax further into the ear and/or injure yourself. Make sure to book an appointment with your local audiologist so that they can safely remove the earwax for you. They will also be able to advice you as to the most appropriate earwax removal method. The different techniques they could use to relieve your cerumen blockage include:

Age-Related Hearing Loss

It may be the case that some of your hearing has returned, but your ear still feels blocked after microsuction, water irrigation, or manual earwax removal. This could mean that you have an underlying hearing loss condition. Age-related hearing loss (or presbycusis) is very common among seniors: in the UK, about 40% of people aged 50 years old and 71% of those aged 70 years and above suffer from it.

If this is the reason behind your hearing issues, you might notice that you have difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds such as children’s voices or the phone ringing. Generally, this condition can be successfully treated using hearing aids suitable for your level of hearing loss. If you think you might be suffering from age-related hearing loss, make sure to book a hearing test with your local audiologist so that they can provide you with adequate treatment and advice. The earlier you receive medical treatment, the easier it will be to treat the condition.

Otoscope and a pair of hearing aids next to a plastic ear model

Sinusitis (sinus infection)

Sinus infections occur when the cavities around the nasal passage become inflamed and swollen. Sinus drainage caused by an infection can lead to ear congestion and impacted hearing. Accompanying symptoms may include a headache, cough, fever, and fatigue.

If you think you might be suffering from a sinus infection and your symptoms last for more than 10 days, you should book an appointment with your GP so that they can treat the underlying cause of the infection.

Conditions which cause symptoms that can mimic those of a sinus infection include hay fever and the common cold.

Young blonde woman appearing to suffer from sinusitis, pressing the top of her nose in between her thumb and pointer finger

Middle Ear Infection

Middle ear infections (or otitis media) happen due to a fluid build-up caused by inflammation of the Eustachian tube. This tube evens out the pressure between the outer or middle ear, but a cold or an allergy can irritate it and cause it to swell, preventing fluid from draining from the middle ear. The fluid then builds up behind the eardrum, facilitating growth of bacteria and viruses which cause the middle-ear infection.

Some middle ear infections clear on their own, however others can lead to hearing impairment if left untreated.

Ear Barotrauma

Ear barotrauma (also called airplane ear) is caused by a build-up of air pressure behind the eardrum caused by rapid changes in air pressure. This can happen in an airplane, but it can also occur when riding an elevator or diving.

In addition to muffled hearing, symptoms of ear barotrauma may also include ear pain and vertigo, and even bleeding from the ear. In most cases the condition isn’t serious, however in rare cases it can lead to chronic tinnitus or hearing loss.

Noise-Induced Damage

Noise-induced hearing loss happens when the structures inside the ear get damaged due to loud sound. This can be immediate, but it can also take some time to become noticeable, which might be the reason why your hearing feels muffled without an apparent reason.

If you think you might have noise-induced hearing loss, make sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible in order to treat the condition in its early stages.


Tinnitus can also cause muffled hearing. It is characterized by the experience of a ringing, buzzing, humming, hissing, or whistling sound in your ears that comes from inside your own body rather than an outside source. This can be either temporary or permanent.

Tinnitus can occur due to age or as a result of exposure to loud sounds. Sometimes, however, it can happen without an apparent reason.

Foreign Object in the Ear Canal

In addition to earwax, blockages inside the ear canal can be caused by foreign objects such as water, an insect, or any small item (especially common for children). Besides muffled hearing, symptoms can include pain, drainage from the ear, and bleeding.

An ear blockage caused by a foreign object is serious and required medical aid to prevent ear injury.

Ototoxic Medication

Medications such as loop diuretics, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and anti-inflammatory drugs can have an adverse effect on the ear, causing impaired hearing which can be mild to severe. Additional symptoms may include vertigo, tinnitus, and a feeling of fullness in the ear.

Other Reasons

Rarely, muffled hearing can be caused by conditions like Meniere’s disease or a tumour such as acoustic neuroma.

Other causes include brain injury/ head trauma, or a ruptured eardrum.

Seeking Treatment

If you have muffled hearing, the best course of action is to book a hearing assessment. Hear4U offer free, no-obligation hearing tests at our clinics in Leicester, Rothwell, and Hinckley. You can easily secure a hearing appointment by submitting our simple appointment request form >>