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Stuffy Ears and Fears of Allergies

Gray's Anatomy plate -

For several weeks now I have been experiencing uncomfortable swelling inside my right ear canal. Just my right ear. Just near the earlobe – shallow enough to touch with my pinkie. I put up with it for days before I realized it was following any sort of pattern.

I always felt it in the evening: after dinner and/or nebs, because sometime it waited until we were watching TV and sometimes it was nearly during dinner. Then I’d get it after lunch or mid-morning. The real tipping point for me was when it happened doing my nebs in the morning before I’d eaten or had anything to drink.

I mentioned it on Facebook and everyone suggested I see my doctor. We mulled over options here and decided to cut out Hot Pockets – my most recent high-calorie food addiction – what is “imitation mozzarella” anyway? That didn’t do anything but make my lunches take 5x longer to heat up. Same symptoms. It didn’t make sense to be an allergy to my food anyway. Who’s ever had a one-sided allergy in their ear from ingestion?

Friday morning I’d had enough

I called my PCP to see if he had changed his hours and was open on Fridays. He was and he could see me in an hour. I downed my breakfast and hit the road.

As far as family practice doctors go, he’s fantastic. What he doesn’t know about CF he more than makes up with general weird things like in-grown hairs (I hold his whisker length record), staph infections on hamstrings, plantar warts, and the effects of not having a daily Dulcolax regimen with CF that we won’t go into detail enough to even name it here… unless someone could benefit from it, of course. So I thought I’d give this strange symptom a go with him.

He listened to my above story and had me up on the table. He looked in both ears with the hand-held scope and noted some fluid behind my right eardrum, but seemed to think that was sinus-related and something to talk to my ENT about in 2 weeks. Then he nailed it on the head.

He stuck his fingers in my ears and asked me to open my mouth. No problem. “Close it.” OUCH! Same for going side to side and biting down. He said I have TMJ – temporomandibular joint disorder. Some of you may remember me saying I couldn’t open my jaw a few weeks ago without severe pain. That lasted about 8 hours or so that day.

So, I looked it up when I got to the car and found:

Ear pain associated with the swelling of proximal tissue is a symptom of temporomandibular joint disorder.

Sounds familiar, as did 7 other symptoms on that Wikipedia list, including clicking at times when I open wide.

Here’s what’s going on

I’ve always been a teeth grinder at night, but sleeping with a mouthguard, CPAP, and coughing in my sleep do not mix. I think I wore it two nights, and that’s before my CPAP. I got a chinstrap a while back, but it’s too claustrophobic. I had to take it off to even consider laying down, let alone going to sleep. But that’s not all.

I’ve, over the course of a few months, noticed that I am sitting with my jaw clenched. A lot. Coding, designing, listening, writing (yes, even now), and driving.  It’s become a facial posture of sorts. Why, I have no clue, but it’s clearly causing health issues.

He prescribed Flexeril 10mg at bedtime and told me to take 1/2 a dose for a while to see if that helps. It’s a strong muscle-relaxant in an effort to loosen my jaw at night to get some relief during the day. Clinic wasn’t concerned about respiration because I have my CPAP for assistance if I get lazy in my sleep.

I’ve been on it without any improvement, but tonight is pretty much a wash. I guess I’ll be sleeping in. I’ve programmed until I was so stuck so late that even my night owl programming buddy had gone to bed.

I’ll have an update to this in a week or so. Until then, is this common? How did you or yours get over the symptoms?



  1. MiddleAgedLady says

    OH boy! Welcome to the club. Yes, I’ve had this problem for ages. I, too, thought I was having ear problems. Mine started after removal of my wisdom teeth, where the dentist had to get a little rough to get one tooth out. Moist heat, cold packs, unclenching, bite guard, neck massage help. Posture is really important — the head/neck forward vs lined up with spine is bad. And worse for many CFers, it’s bad to hold your nebs with your teeth instead of your hand. I hope the Flexeril does the trick for you!

    • Yes! I noticed one night that it must hurt in the evenings from the combo of eating and nebs. Good to know it’s common.

      • MiddleAgedLady says

        I’ve been to countless TMJ gurus. Most are ordinary dentists hoping to latch on to a goldmine, I’m afraid. If any of you feel you need to seek a specialist, look for one who is trained/approved by the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain.

        And I failed to advise that gum-chewing is a big no-no.

  2. Anonymous says

    I knew I kept you around for something- LOL! I remember if I commented on your FB post or not when you first experienced it. I meant to, but memory doesn’t serve. Anyway, the same day you posted about that, I had pain in my right ear that was coming and going. I clinch my teeth all the time. I stop when I realize I’m doing it.  Definitely something worth having checked out. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Don’t you get bad headaches, too, or am I thinking of someone else on Facebook?

      • Anonymous says

        That would be me. I get migraines and severe headaches frequently. The last one I had a few days ago, came on suddenly when I was going to bed. I left it untreated thinking I would sleep it off. Woke up and it was worse than when I went to bed.

  3. C Artprocess says

    Neb. treatments have also caused me issues with my jaw. In addition to the TMJ, I have noticed that holding my nebs with my teeth forces an overbite that pops up everytime I experience anxiety…..hmmmm is there a mental link between neb. treatments and anxiety? To make matters worse, I have also noticed that my jaw is pushed out of alignment from my pillow when I sleep on my side and/or practice my postural drainage exercises. It is safe to say that my daily regimen is brutal on my jaw, which leaves little time for it to rest and heal.

    • I’m a side/stomach sleeper and my right side gets most of the attention, so that might be why it’s my right ear. No overbite here, but plenty of muscle strain. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I totally have that including the ear pain but don’t have the time or willingness to do anything about it. My jaw clicks all the time and I can’t open it really wide, and my ear hurts like you describe a lot. I just don’t want to see a doc about it:) I am a good caretaker, not a good patient.

    • Ha, speaking to a man who waited almost a month before going in for a quick look at the ears… I don’t like going to the doctor any more than most, but when it comes to CF stuff, I know I have to. It’s the other stuff that makes me feel more like a regular guy who doesn’t want to go to the doctor. 😉

  5. Kristi Bowers says

    Why did it do that, I am Kristi, not ispikem

  6. It seems like you can’t swing a cat around your head without hitting someone with TMJ. It’s amazingly common when you start finding out about people’s ailments. I’m not at all surprised that lots of CFers have it from holding the nebs in their teeth. I like MiddleAgedLady’s tip on making sure the dentist is approved in the TMJ field.

  7. Tara Hurlburt says

    I don’t experience that, but do have frequent ear infections so in my non-medical opinion, ear pain is not great! I hope the flexeril helps and you get some relief! I love your blog!!


    • From my experience: chiropractor = quack. I’ve had many, many, many
      adjustments, none of which solved any particular ailments but sure felt
      good. For the money, I’d rather get a massage, since that’s at least an hour
      instead of 5 minutes.