Most of us take our ears for granted.
We only really notice them when we get 'swimmers ear' after a day at the pool, or are squirming under a hot water bottle during an ear infection.
Some of us may pack some gum on an airplane to get through that unpleasant few moments between the feeling of pressure in our inner ear and the reassuring pop when it finally opens up.
But for thousands for others, there is a constant feeling of fullness in one or both ears or even a complete blockage by fluid that does not go away.
Complex Ear Congestion
Your case will be unique - your ear congestion may come with nausea, nasal drip, a bad taste in your mouth, migraines, balance issues, tinnitus, fatigue and motion sickness.
Your ear congestion may have happened during an ear infection and never went away, or may get worse when eating certain foods, or they may have become plugged at the onset of an autoimmune condition.
In this article, we will use an example case to show that chronic ear congestion can signal a deeper imbalance. Finding the root cause is the key to getting rid of ear congestion for good.
Rule Out Obvious Causes
Your first step should be to visit your doctor's office to rule out physical blockages and acute infection.
If your case is not resolved there, you will be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist (an ENT).
Ideally, your ear problem is solved by either of these two visits. If it isn't, you likely have been told that it may go away on its own and it may not - and there is nothing that you can do but wait.
Fortunately, there are many ways to find out what exactly is causing your chronic ear congestion and - depending on your case - ways to make it go away fast.
Get Better Testing
Typically, blood tests are not ordered in cases of chronic ear congestion. A conventional doctor will usually look into structural causes of hearing impairment - like certain genetic conditions, wax buildup or inflammation-based fluid.
If no surgery is recommended and no medication is needed and the fluid affecting your inner or middle ear appears to be clear (uninfected) then a 'wait and see' approach will likely be recommended.
Tests are often just used for diagnosis, often additional testing can reveal the underlying cause of mysterious symptoms
I practice functional medicine, which seeks to address the cause of complex symptoms and conditions.
'Idiopathic' is the label given conditions that have 'no known cause.'
Often, however, idiopathic conditions are simply those that have not been properly investigated.
It may be that the only blood tests you've had is a cholesterol test or a complete blood count (CBC) at your annual checkup.
When something changes - like the onset of severe allergies or new symptoms or a health condition like rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue or depression - more thorough testing is warranted to see what is happening on a deeper level in your body.
Functional Range And Why It Matters
It helps to know just how blood testing results are assessed before we go further. You may assume that when a doctor orders testing and says that your results are 'normal' that it means that you are 'well'.
Results that are in a 'normal' range just mean that you are in the average range of all the patients that have got their testing at that lab. It is, essentially, a range of people who are already sick.
By the time your values reach a level that is outside 'normal,' you may already be in an advanced diseased state, or on the brink of organ failure.
'Functional range' on the other hand, is a range of the optimal function of the value we are testing.
Based on a functional medicine model, 'mysterious' symptoms begin to make sense, and 'idiopathic' diseases can sometimes be traced to a specific cause.
During your care we can also assess how well you are responding to treatment based on your bloodwork - you will not only feel your symptoms improve, you will see evidence of your overall function improve as well.
For my patients, I don't just want you to be 'not sick,' I want you to be healthy.
From 'Idiopathic' to Diagnosis
In cases of ear congestion of unknown origin it is helpful to assess the function of your internal organs (especially your liver), the overall health of your immune system, if you have a