Is Muffled Hearing Serious?

Learn what causes us to experience muffled hearing in one or both ears and how to find relief.
Last update on Feb, 29, 2024

Have you ever experienced a time when the sounds in front of you seemed distant or like they were happening in another room? Maybe your ear felt suddenly clogged, forcing you to strain to hear a conversation at work or at the family dinner table.

Muffled hearing can happen to anyone, regardless of age. It occurs when sound waves do not transmit properly to the inner ear, reducing hearing clarity. The result is muffled sounds that make communicating and enjoying the activities we love (like listening to music) difficult.

In this article, we'll guide you through the common causes of muffled hearing so you can take action to identify its underlying issue and protect your hearing health. 

Why Is My Hearing Muffled?

Muffled hearing can occur in one or both ears and may be temporary or persistent due to an underlying condition. Here are some reasons why you may experience fullness in the ear or blockage:

Earwax Buildup

When the ear canal accumulates excessive ear wax, we often experience muffled hearing. The blockage can cause a feeling of fullness in the ear, temporary hearing loss, and some discomfort. 

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

The Eustachian tube is responsible for equalizing the pressure in the middle ear. It can cause a buildup of pressure and muffled hearing when it doesn't function properly.

Middle Ear Infection

A middle ear infection, also known as otitis media, is an infection that occurs behind the eardrum. It can cause inflammation and fluid buildup in the middle ear, interfering with the transmission of sound waves to the inner ear.

A person with a middle ear infection may experience muffled hearing or mild  hearing loss. 

Clogged Ears From a Cold

When you catch a cold, the mucus membranes in your sinuses can become inflamed and produce excess mucus. The result is congestion in your sinuses, affecting the Eustachian tube.

As we mentioned previously, when the Eustachian tube is blocked or narrowed, it can lead to muffled hearing, ear pressure, and even ear pain.

Ménière’s Disease

Ménière’s disease is a complex and debilitating condition that affects the inner ear, causing a range of symptoms that can significantly impact a person's quality of life, including:

  • Vertigo (i.e., a spinning sensation)
  • Tinnitus (i.e., ringing in the ears)
  • A feeling of pressure or fullness in the affected ear
  • Hearing loss

Although the exact cause of Ménière’s disease is still unknown, it's thought to be related to changes in the fluid volume or pressure in the inner ear. These changes can cause damage to the delicate hair-like cells in the inner ear responsible for converting sound waves into electrical signals that the brain can interpret.

People with Ménière’s disease may have difficulty hearing or understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments. 

Ear Pressure Changes During Air Travel

You may already be familiar with this one. The sudden alteration in air pressure during a flight's takeoff and landing can cause a short-lived sensation of muffled hearing. You may have heard this referred to as airplane ear.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Exposure to loud noises for an extended period can damage the hair-like cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for transmitting sound signals to the brain.

The damage can result in permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, and difficulty understanding speech. Muffled hearing is a common symptom of NIHL, where sounds may seem less clear or distinct than usual.

In more severe cases, you may have difficulty hearing soft or high-pitched sounds, and conversations may sound muddled or garbled.

Ruptured Eardrum

A ruptured eardrum, also known as a tympanic membrane perforation, occurs when a tear or hole in the thin membrane separates the outer ear from the middle ear.

Causes of a ruptured eardrum may include:

  • Exposure to a sudden loud noise
  • A blow to the ear
  • An infection in the middle ear

When the eardrum is ruptured, it can cause hearing loss or muffled hearing because sound waves cannot travel through the ear as effectively. 

What Does Muffled Hearing Feel Like?

People often describe muffled hearing as a feeling of pressure or fullness in their ears, as if they are blocked.

It may also cause the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in hearing or understanding certain sounds
  • Unclear or muffled sounds
  • Pain in the ear
  • Fullness in the ear
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Ringing in the ears

It's important to remember that muffled hearing can also affect your ability to hear your own voice accurately. You may subconsciously adjust the way you speak, leading to muffled speech.

We know that muffled hearing can make it difficult to hear the speech of others, but did you know that this can further impact our own speech patterns as we try to compensate for the communication breakdown? 

Sudden Muffled Hearing in One Ear: How To Fix

Sudden hearing loss in one ear can be very serious. It’s important to consult a local hearing care provider as soon as possible if you’re experiencing sudden unilateral hearing loss.

How to Treat Muffled Hearing

OTC Remedies

Your provider may recommend that you do the following:

  • Clear the ear canal using over-the-counter ear drops
  • Gently rinsing your ear with warm water
  • Use hydrogen peroxide if the cause of your muffled hearing is ear wax buildup.

Avoid using cotton swabs or other objects to clean your ear, as this can cause more damage.

Other Types of Treatment

Once your provider identifies the cause of your muffled hearing, he or she can prescribe the best treatment to improve your hearing health and overall quality of life.

  • If the cause of your muffled hearing is related to an ear infection, your hearing care provider may prescribe antibiotics to help eliminate the infection and restore your hearing.
  • For those experiencing hearing loss, hearing aids may be recommended to improve hearing ability and overall communication.
  • For Ménière’s disease, treatment options may include medication to manage symptoms, changes in diet, and lifestyle modifications. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure and fluid buildup in the inner ear.

Does Muffled Hearing Go Away?

Temporary muffled hearing in one ear may resolve on its own, depending on the root cause. However, medical attention may be necessary if you're living with a more severe condition, such as an ear infection or a ruptured eardrum.

Remember that muffled hearing can also become a permanent condition, which can significantly impact an individual's daily life.

Hearing exam

Find a Provider Near You

Are you struggling to hear due to muffled sounds? Let us help you connect to a hearing care provider in your neighborhood who can provide a thorough assessment, support, and effective solutions to address your symptoms and improve your quality of life. You can also use our "Check Your Benefits" tool to understand your hearing health coverage.

Amplifon locations

Get your hearing checked at a clinic in your area

Request an appointment

Request an appointment at a hearing care provider near you.

We appreciate you reaching out to us.

Our hearing care advocates will call you shortly and help answer all your questions.

Members Blog

Find all about the latest news
Go to the blog

Rediscover the joy of sound

About Amplifon Hearing Health Care

Find out more

FREE virtual hearing screening

New innovation