What It Means When There's Fluttering In Your Ear

Our ears are highly sensitive to both the loudest and faintest of sounds. In fact, a 2019 research paper published in Physical Review Letters points out that our ears can pick up on vibrations in the eardrum coming from sound waves with lengths less than the width of an atom.

However, we may sometimes hear noises even in the absence of an outside source — this can include fluttering sounds in the ear. If you're picking up on noise that resembles the steady whooshing of a rotating fan blade, you may be experiencing fluttering in the ear. This can occur for a number of reasons. Most often, experts attribute it to a form of tinnitus known as middle ear myoclonus (MEM), according to Medical News Today

Estimated to affect up to nearly one-quarter of people across the country, tinnitus is a condition in which a person perceives sound in the ears, such as throbbing, crackling, ringing, or fluttering, but without an external stimulus present. Middle ear myoclonus, in particular, is thought to be a result of abnormal muscle contractions occurring in the middle ear. However, MEM isn't the only possible explanation for such fluttering sounds.

Other potential causes of ear fluttering

In other cases, fluttering in the ear may be due to a problem with one's eustachian tube, reports Medical News Today. Out of its many functions, our eustachian tubes are responsible for keeping a balance of air pressure between the inner ear and the outside environment. Sometimes, however, our eustachian tubes don't function as they should. A eustachian tube that becomes swollen, or stays predominantly open rather than closed, can both potentially prompt fluttering in the ear.

Alternatively, fluttering in the ear can also sometimes stem from a physical obstruction, such as a buildup of earwax. Over time, blockages from excess earwax may interfere with our hearing. Similarly, our ears can also become blocked due to congestion from a sinus infection (via North Shore Hearing P.C.) Other times, however, fluttering in the ear may not have anything to do with the ears at all. Rather, people with hypertension are also said to potentially be at an increased risk for hearing issues. This may be particularly true if there isn't adequate blood flow to the cochlea due to fluctuations in blood pressure. Located in the inner ear, it's the cochlea that helps facilitate hearing (via StatPearls).

How to alleviate the discomfort of ear fluttering

Fluttering in the ear isn't just a nuisance. Rather, it can significantly impact a person's day-to-day life. Those who are affected by chronic fluttering in the ear may also experience sleep trouble, anxiety, depression, decreases in mood, as well as difficulty in school or the workplace (via North Shore Hearing P.C.) For these reasons and more, it's important to consult with a practitioner who can provide a formal diagnosis and treatment plan, particularly if your ear fluttering is related to a health condition that may require medication.

Treatment methods will vary depending on the cause of the condition. For ear fluttering related to sinus congestion, for example, breathing in steam from a bowl of hot water may help alleviate the discomfort. Attempting to "pop" your ears may also be helpful in some cases, such as by chewing, yawning, or keeping your mouth and nostrils closed while attempting to exhale out of the nose.

Because stress, caffeine, and alcohol can exacerbate ear-fluttering sensations, aim to get regular exercise, maintain a healthy diet, and utilize stress-management techniques. Those with high blood pressure will want to discuss treatment options with their doctor. If you believe earwax impaction is the reason for your ear fluttering, talk with a physician, as they will be able to remove the buildup safely.