You are here:

Deafness/Hearing Impairment/Retracted eardrum and wax build up



About 6 weeks ago, I experienced three episodes of fairy short lived vertigo in one week, which then proceeded to leave me feeling generally 'off balance' at varying times on and off through the day.  After a few weeks I went to see my doctor who told me I had a retracted eardrum in my left ear, but otherwise looked healthy.  A week later after using nasal spray and antihistamines and steam inhalation, nothing had changed and i am still feeling off balance, particularly when walking outside it seems. Its a kind of uncoordinated  feeling, a bit like being drunk. However it is not so noticable moving around in smaller spaces.

Today I went to see my GP again ( now three weeks of this) and she tells me she cannot see my eardrum properly because of a wax build up.  

She has instructed I use ear drops to soften the wax and go back in a week to syringe the wax out.
How could this happen?  The week before I was told they could see my eardrum and apart from being retracted it all looked ok!
The unbalanced feelings frighten me, and I have read things on the internet that tell me the fluid can cause really bad damage to the ear permanently.  What can I do, and why have I got this without having any infection?  They have not prescribed antibiotics as I have no fever or redness of the eardrum when they could see it.  I am scared that my eardrum is perforated or something and syringing will cause further damage.  Can you help at all?




I would be concerned, or least questioning, why they could give you a report on the eardrum and then a short time later (week or little more?) they can't visualize the drum.  It is very unusual for that much wax to accumulate that quickly.  It takes many many weeks, sometimes years, to accumulate that much occluding wax.  
It is not unusual for a doctor to not recognize what they see in the ear canal.  They don't see abnormal stuff everyday, all day (like we do) so often times they aren't completely sure what they are looking at.  No fault of theirs...its just that some are better at identifying what they are looking at than others.

Either way, it sounds like you have something causing the balance problems and it is likely the impacted wax or fluid build up.  Impacted wax can become so hard and full that it pushes on the eardrum and causes pressure in the ear which can cause balance problems.  Fluid can build up behind the eardrum and cause internal pressure which can cause balance problems.  

Its true that the fluid can cause permanent hearing damage but it has to be in the ear for a very long time before that will happen.  You probably are not in any real danger of that happening anytime soon.  

I would work to get the wax out first.  Do the drops and then have the ear irrigated, just as your GP has recommended.  You can't determine anything if the canal is stopped up with wax.  Once that is clear, hopefully your symptoms will resolve or the GP can better determine if there is fluid behind the eardrum.  If there is fluid, the Eustachian tube needs to be open to help drain the fluid.  The doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to help with this or may suggest over the counter antihistamine or decongestant.  

Thank you for your question.  
Kelley Linton, AuD

Deafness/Hearing Impairment

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Dr. Kelley Linton


I'm an audiologist in private practice in Arkansas. I graduated from the University of Florida medical school. I specialize in hearing loss; hearing rehabilitation; hearing aids; noise induced hearing loss; occupational noise exposure; OSHA guidelines and regulations; hearing protection; tinnitis; newborn hearing testing; children and hearing loss and diagnosis and etiology of hearing loss.


I've been a practicing audiologist for 20 years and have owned a private practice for 14 years. I am also an audiologist in the United States Army where I teach DOD hearing conservation regulations and manage 3000 DOD employees at an army industrial facility.

Arkansas Academy of Audiology American Academy of Audiology Academy of Doctors of Audiology American Speech and Hearing Association National Hearing Conservation Association

Journal of the Academy of Audiology Southwest Times Record, Fort Smith, Arkansas Press Argus Courier, Van Buren, Arkansas

Au.D. - Doctor of Audiology, University of Florida American Academy of Audiology fellow member Audiology Board Certification American Speech and Hearing Association certification Arkansas State Audiology license-current CPT United States Army Medical Corps

Awards and Honors
American Speech and Hearing Association "ACE" award x 7 years United States Army Accommodation Award Arkansas Academy of Audiology elected board of director x 3 years Better community award, Fort Smith, AR for volunteer audiology service to free community health clinic

Past/Present Clients
Serving newborn to geriatric ages.....unable to provide specific names.

©2017 All rights reserved.