There's no single moment that I can pinpoint at which I started having problems with my ear, other than to say that it really became noticeable during a period when I was flying a lot (when I was working at Tapjoy). That was between two and three years ago.
Between then and now, here are the symptoms I experienced -
Symptoms that caused me to make doctor's appointments:
- Crackling and feeling of "stuffiness" in my ear. The only way to temporarily get rid of this annoyance was to pop my ear, which I eventually had to do several times a day.
- My ear would take many, many hours to "unplug itself" after flying, so I got used to force-popping it.
- Along the way, I had a couple of ear infections that were bad enough to warrant antibiotics and nasal spray.
Symptoms that I should've mentioned to the doctor, but didn't:
- Strange-colored, foul-smelling earwax. I've since discovered that earwax can be all kinds of colors, and I did mention that to my GP, but I didn't mention the smell, and now I realize that I should've.
- Hearing loss. I had a sneaking suspicion that my hearing had gotten worse in that ear, but I wasn't totally sure.
The earwax symptom is the one that I most regret not reporting. I don't know why I didn't put 2+2 together. It wasn't really a source of discomfort for me so I didn't mention it. It wasn't until my ENT asked me if I had it that I realized I hadn't mentioned it enough. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20 I guess...
Sorry to get graphic, but I'm going to describe what the earwax was like in case anyone reading this might be experiencing the same thing.
First of all, it probably wasn't technically earwax. A lot of sites describe it as "leakage" but I only noticed it when I would clean my ear canals with Q-tips (WHICH I NO LONGER DO). The Q-tip would be caked with blackish gunk that smelled really funky, and once a month or so I would go through about three Q-tips (both sides) cleaning this stuff out. Once, I accidentally left the dirty Q-tips on the counter (gross, I know), and that's what really convinced my wife that I had some kind of abnormal issue going on with my ear. Anyway, the stuff was black, gunky, almost tar-like, and had a unique but undeniably-bad odor.
Graphic enough? :-/ Again, sorry!
In my next post I'll talk about what I went through until I finally got a diagnosis.