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Understanding Echo in the Ears: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Kimberley Bradshaw - Head of Marketing
Written By:
Kimberley Bradshaw

Head of Customer Content Experience

Paul Harrison Hearing Aid UK Founder & Audiologist
Medically Reviewed By:
Paul Harrison

Audiology Expert

Updated and medically reviewed: 28th June 2024
Understanding Echo in the Ears: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Understanding Echo in the Ears

Looking at the causes, symptoms, and treatments

 

 

Introduction    |    Causes    |    Symptoms    |    Diagnosis    |    Treatment    |    Conclusion

 

What is echo in the ears?

Echo in the ears, or autophony, is due to conditions like Eustachian tube dysfunction, middle ear infections, or earwax buildup. Symptoms include hearing echoes of your own voice, tinnitus, and ear fullness. Diagnosis involves medical evaluation, and treatments range from earwax removal and hearing aids to surgical interventions for underlying structural issues.

In this article, we look into the causes, symptoms and treatments available for echo in the ears.

 

Echo in the ears causes

Do you ever experience an unexplained echo in your ear? You're not alone. Many people report sensations like having cotton balls in their ears or a pressure similar to what you feel on an airplane. Despite the varying descriptions, the common threads are the discomfort and impact on hearing.

Echo in the ears, often described as hearing your own voice or other sounds reverberating in your ear canal, can be a disconcerting experience. Also called "autophony," it can affect quality of life and is sometimes a sign of underlying health issues. 

Echo in the ears can arise from various factors, each contributing to the abnormal perception of sound.

 

Some common causes include:

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD): The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and helps equalise ear pressure. When this tube is blocked or does not function properly, it can cause sound to echo in the ear. Conditions such as allergies, sinus infections, or colds can lead to ETD.

Middle ear infections: Infections in the middle ear can cause fluid buildup, leading to a sensation of echo. This is particularly common in children but can affect adults as well.

Earwax buildup: Excessive earwax can block the ear canal, leading to distorted sound perception. The echo is often resolved once the earwax is removed.

Patulous Eustachian tube: This occurs when the Eustachian tube remains abnormally open, causing sounds such as your own breathing or voice to be amplified and echoed.

Otitis media with effusion: This condition involves fluid accumulation in the middle ear without infection. The fluid can cause a sensation of fullness and echo in the ears.

Superior Canal Dehiscence Syndrome (SCDS): A rare condition where a small hole in the bone that covers the superior semicircular canal of the inner ear causes sounds to reverberate abnormally.

Acoustic neuroma:  This is a non-cancerous tumour that develops on the main nerve connecting your inner ear to your brain. Although it grows slowly, it can lead to hearing loss, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and an echoing sensation.

Medical intervention may be necessary for its management.

Age-related hearing loss/presbycusis:  Age-related hearing loss is a common cause of echoing and is often accompanied by tinnitus. This condition results from the natural ageing process affecting the cochlea and related structures in the inner ear.

Hearing aids can be helpful in managing presbycusis.

Sinus infections:  Inflammation of the sinus cavities can cause echoing in the ear. Sinusitis, whether acute or chronic, can lead to symptoms such as mucus buildup, redness, swelling, and pain. Seeking medical attention is crucial for proper management.

Diplacusis:  Double hearing, caused by factors such as ear infections or exposure to loud noise, manifests in different forms. Diplacusis Dysharmonica occurs due to a difference in perceived pitch, while Diplacusis Echoica arises from a delay in sound perception.

Allergies:  Allergy-related symptoms, including echoing, can result from excess fluid buildup in the ear. This can create uncomfortable pressure, discomfort, and hearing loss. Managing allergies is key to addressing this issue.

Ototoxic medications:  Certain medications, including some chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin, can adversely affect the nerve cells in the inner ear, causing an echoing sensation.

If you suspect your medication is causing this issue, consult your local GP.

 

Echo in my ear symptoms

In addition to the primary symptom of echoing sounds, some may experience various other symptoms depending on the underlying cause, such as:

Hearing loss and tinnitus: Partial or fluctuating hearing loss can accompany echo in the ears, particularly if the issue is related to fluid buildup or earwax blockage.  Tinnitus, which is a constant ringing or buzzing sound may be present alongside the echo.

Ear fullness, pain, and balance issues: A sensation of pressure or fullness in the ear is common, especially in cases of Eustachian tube dysfunction or otitis media.  Vertigo or dizziness may occur if the inner ear is affected.  Infections or significant fluid buildup can also lead to ear pain or discomfort.

 

Echo in the ears

Echo in the Ears

How is echo in the ears diagnosed?

 

Diagnosing echo in the ears

Proper diagnosis is essential to identify the underlying cause of echo in the ears. Your GP, audiologist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, will conduct a thorough examination. This may include:

Physical examination: Using an otoscope, the doctor can inspect the ear canal and eardrum for signs of infection, fluid, or earwax buildup.

Hearing tests: Audiometric tests help evaluate the extent of hearing loss and determine if there are any abnormalities in sound perception.

Imaging Tests: In cases where structural issues like SCDS are suspected, CT scans or MRIs may be necessary.

Tympanometry tests: This test measures the movement of the eardrum to assess middle ear function and the presence of fluid.

 

Echo in ears remedy

Echo in the ears treatment depends on the underlying cause. Here are some common approaches:

  • Medications: For infections, antibiotics or antiviral medications may be prescribed. Antihistamines and decongestants can help if allergies or sinus issues are contributing to the problem.
  • Earwax removal: A healthcare professional can safely remove earwax using irrigation, suction, or specialised instruments.
  • Eustachian tube exercises: Techniques such as the Valsalva manoeuvre can help open a blocked Eustachian tube. In some cases, a procedure known as Eustachian tube balloon dilation may be performed.
  • Surgery: For structural issues like SCDS or chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction, surgical intervention may be necessary.
  • Hearing aids:  If hearing loss is a significant issue, hearing aids can improve sound perception and reduce the sensation of echo.
  • Home remedies: Staying hydrated, using saline nasal sprays, and avoiding known allergens can help manage symptoms. Avoiding loud noises and using ear protection can also prevent further ear damage.

 

Conclusion

Echo in the ears can be a bothersome experience, but understanding its causes and symptoms is the first step toward finding relief. Whether it's due to Eustachian tube dysfunction, earwax buildup, or a more serious condition like SCDS, there are various treatment options available out there.

If you experience persistent echo in your ears, seeking professional medical advice is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective management. With the right approach, most can find significant relief from this auditory issue.

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Beyond treatment, protecting your ears from loud noises is essential. Wearing hearing protection, such as earplugs, can significantly reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

If you are concerned about your hearing or experiencing symptoms like echoing, take a proactive step towards better hearing health. Contact your local GP to get a diagnosis and treatment plan.

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Meet Kimberley Bradshaw , Head of Customer Content Experience

She has collaborated and written about hearing healthcare for several online publications.  By working closely with Hearing Aid UK audiologists, and experts, Kimberley develops the online content, so that the customer's experience is the best it can be. 

Kimberley's medical representation has allowed her to focus on the importance of hearing healthcare and explore the many ways in which hearing loss and its awareness can be improved.

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Common FAQs about hearing aids and hearing loss

Is this the best model for me?

If you are looking at this page then it is likely that an audiologist has suggested that you purchase this particular hearing aid, so is this the best model for you?

In general, any audiologist will always be recommending to you the model that best suits your needs. Here is a useful check list to make sure that is the case.

  • Audiologist level of knowledge. The audiologist you have seen will hopefully have a wide knowledge of all available hearing aids, however some will only be familiar with a small number of brands and therefore may not really be in a position to know which model is the best for you. It is OK to challenge their recommendation and ask them to justify why this particular brand is the one for you.
  • Do research. Read about the hearing aid that was recommended. Does it seem like it will suit your lifestyle? Does it have more or less features than you need? 
  • Be aware of sales targets. Many high street retailers have specific tie-ins to a particular manufacturer/brand. The hearing aid they have suggested may still be the correct one for you, but do your research so that you know why they might have recommended it.

If in doubt, feel free to give us a call. That's what we're here for.

Do I need one hearing aid or two?

If you have a significant hearing loss in both ears, you should be wearing two hearing aids. Here are the audiological reasons why:

Localisation. The brain decodes information from both ears and compares and contrasts them. By analysing the miniscule time delays as well as the difference in loudness of each sound reaching the ears, the person is able to accurately locate a sound source. Simply put, if you have better hearing on one side than the other, you can't accurately tell what direction sounds are coming from.

Less amplification required. A phenomena known as “binaural summation” means that the hearing aids can be set at a lower and more natural volume setting than than if you wore only one hearing aid.

Head shadow effect. High frequencies, the part of your hearing that gives clarity and meaning to speech sounds, cannot bend around your head. Only low frequencies can. Therefore if someone is talking on your unaided side you are likely to hear that they are speaking, but be unable to tell what they have said.

Noise reduction. The brain has it’s own built in noise reduction which is only really effective when it is receiving information from both ears. If only one ear is aided, even with the best hearing aid in the world, it will be difficult for you to hear in background noise as your brain is trying to retain all of the sounds (including background noise) rather than filtering it out.

Sound quality. We are designed to hear in stereo. Only hearing from one side sounds a lot less natural to us.

What are the benefits of rechargeable hearing aids?

For most people, the main benefit of a rechargeable hearing aid is simple convenience. We are used to plugging in our phones and other devices overnight for them to charge up. 

For anybody with poor dexterity or issues with their fingers, having a rechargeable aid makes a huge difference as normal hearing aid batteries are quite small and some people find them fiddly to change.

One downside is that if you forget to charge your hearing aid, then it is a problem that can't be instantly fixed. For most a 30 minute charge will get you at least two or three hours of hearing, but if you are the type of person who is likely to forget to plug them in regularly then you're probably better off with standard batteries.

Rechargeable aids are also a little bit bigger and are only available in behind the ear models.

Finally, just like with a mobile phone, the amount of charge you get on day one is not going to be the same as you get a few years down the line. Be sure to ask what the policy is with the manufacturer warranty when it comes to replacing the battery.

 

Are behind the ear aids better than in the ear aids?

For most people, the answer is yes. But it's never that simple.

The majority of hearing problems affect the high frequencies a lot more than the low ones. Therefore open fitting hearing aids sound a lot more natural and ones that block your ears up can make your own voice sound like you are talking with your head in a bucket. Therefore in-ear aids tend to be less natural.

However the true answer is we can't tell until we have had a look in your ears to assess the size of your ear canal, and until we have tested your hearing to see which frequencies are being affected.

People with wider ear canals tend to have more flexibility, also there are open fitting modular CIC hearing aids now that do not block your ears.

There is also the age old rule to consider, that a hearing aid will not help you if it's sat in the drawer gathering dust. If the only hearing aid you would be happy wearing is one that people can't see, then that's what you should get.

Most people can adapt to any type of hearing aid, as long as they know what to expect. Have an honest conversation with your audiologist as to what your needs are.

What are channels, and how many do I need?

Generally speaking, six or more. Unless it's none at all.

The number of channels a hearing aid has is often a simplistic way an audiologist will use to explain why one hearing aid is better than another, but channels are complex and it is really not that straightforward.

Hearing aids amplify sounds of different frequencies by different amounts. Most people have lost more high frequencies than low and therefore need more amplification in the high frequencies. The range of sounds you hear are split into frequency bands or channels and the hearing aids are set to provide the right amount of hearing at each frequency level.

Less than six channels and this cannot be done with much accuracy, so six is the magic number. However, a six channel aid is typically very basic with few other features and is suitable only for hearing a single speaker in a quiet room. The number of channels is not what you should be looking at, it's more the rest of the technology that comes with them.

As a final note, different manufacturers have different approaches. One method is not necessarily better than any other. For example some manufacturers have as many as 64 channels in their top aids. Most tend to have between 17 and 20. One manufacturer has no channels at all.

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Hearing aids are easily lost, misplaced or damaged and typically are one of the most expensive personal possessions an individual can own. We offer hearing aid warranty cover for £80 per year per aid.  Find out more here

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All our audiologists use the very latest technology and provide the full range of tests to accurately measure your hearing for free.  Find out about what we offer all our customers here

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Hearing Aid UK offers all their customers free home visiting services and home visits for hearing aids - Including hearing tests, fittings, maintenance, check-ups and much more in the comfort of your own home and at your convenience.  Find out more information here

How come you're much cheaper than other places?

Here, at Hearing Aid UK, we are dedicated to offering low hearing aid prices. We achieve this by having no head office and low marketing costs.   Our hearing aid prices are amongst the lowest you will find anywhere in the world.

Other pages you might find useful

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Best Hearing Aids 2024
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Hearing Tests at Home UK
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