Experiencing a muscle spasm or series of muscle spasms in the ear can be an alarming and ultimately frightening ordeal. How are you supposed to react? How can you treat something happening deep within your ear?
While about 30 million Americans report being diagnosed with different types of tinnitus, it is relatively rare for people to experience muscle spasms in the ear.
In fact, there is one particularly rare type of tinnitus (known as Middle Ear Myoclonus, or MEM for short) that causes muscle spasms in the ear that are so loud that other people standing close by can hear them.
These muscle spasms can be annoying and interfere with your quality of life. Luckily, there are many different types of non-invasive treatments available to help stop muscle spasms within the ear.
What Causes Muscle Spasms in the Ear?
Why, exactly, do people get muscle spasms in their ears? The answer tends to vary depending on the nature of your condition. Essentially, these muscle spasms are likely due to a particular type of tinnitus.
According to the Jackson Clinic, tinnitus is a condition that is either subjective or objective in nature.
Subjective tinnitus is typically a temporary change in hearing that involves hearing loss after a person is exposed to loud noise, such as a shotgun blast close to the ear or standing next to the loudspeaker at a concert. Subjective tinnitus usually resolves itself in a relatively short period of time.
Objective tinnitus, however, tends to be the result of an irregular flow of blood in and/or around the ear.
There are several muscles within the ear that can be impacted by spasms. The tensor tympani muscle (a cord-like muscle that stretches throughout the canal above the auditory tube) is responsible for diminishing sounds within the ear.
This muscle is particularly vulnerable to spasms, especially when the middle ear is under stress.
As shown in this video from the Ashford ENT Clinic, a spasm in the tensor tympani muscle can occur when inflammation of the membranes of the inner ear is present.
Tonic tensor tympani syndrome (TTTS) is considered to be the result of elevated anxiety that causes the reflex threshold for this muscle to become lessened, thereby leading to regular spasms that are difficult to control without medical intervention.
How Does Middle Ear Myoclonus Lead to Tinnitus?
One of the rarest forms of objective tinnitus is Middle Ear Myoclonus (MEM), and it is known to cause dysfunctional movements in both the tensor tympani muscle and the stapedius muscle (which works as a stabilizer for the stirrup-shaped stapes).
When the tensor tympani spasms, it tends to sound like a clicking noise or a drum being beaten.
When the spasms occur in the stapedius muscle, you will hear more of a crackling or buzzing noise.
MEM can be caused by loud noises, stress, or spasms that occur in the palate or facial nerves. Spasms can happen in one or both ears, and if you are under stress, this can exacerbate the symptoms.
Treating Muscle Spasms in the Ear
How can you treat something that you cannot see, something that is happening deep inside of your ear?
While it seems like this would be a difficult symptom to treat (and it sometimes is), there are quite a few ways to combat these muscle spasms and return your hearing to a more normalized state.
In most cases, surgical intervention is not required, especially if you catch your condition early on.
One of the most invasive procedures that you can get to treat muscles spasms in the ear is a series of Botox injections in the Eustachian tube.
While these injections work for a few months to stop the spasms, they get expensive since multiple injections are typically required.
When surgery is required, a procedure is known as a tympanostomy, according to Medscape, will be performed.
This procedure involves inserting a tube into the tympanic membrane that helps to equalize pressure in the membrane and stop the spasms from happening. This procedure tends to be done predominantly in children.
Most people with muscle spasms will be prescribed medications when their doctors give them the proper diagnoses.
You might also be advised to take dietary supplements. However, there are other non-invasive techniques that you can try to get the muscle spasms to cease.
Acupuncture, biofeedback, and zygomatic hand pressure are just a few of the techniques that you can employ to help treat the muscle spasms in your ears.
Medications for Muscle Spasms
There are a number of different medications that doctors might prescribe to help treat muscle spasms within the ear, many of which have varying degrees of effectiveness.
According to researchers Jufas and Wood, benzodiazepines, though often prescribed for tinnitus, do not seem to work as well for subjective tinnitus as Clonazepam, which is ultimately less habit-forming since it has a much longer half-life than benzodiazepines.
As Barry Keate writes, Gabapentin (which is also known by its trade name, Neurontin) and Clonazepam (which is classified as an anti-anxiety medication) were used together in one study to help treat individuals with severe cases of tinnitus.
Researchers found that irregularities involving GABA receptors in the brain (which, when impaired, can lead to convulsions and spasms) were lessened over the course of the study in many participants.
Overall, this seems to suggest that stress and anxiety play a role in ear spasms and that these symptoms can be effectively reduced in some people.
Dietary Supplements For Muscle Spasms
As JB Bardot writes, ear spasms might sometimes be related to a nutrient deficiency in the body.
One of the most common nutrients that human beings are deficient in is magnesium. Our 21st-century, highly-processed diets can be, in part, to blame for the widespread nature of this deficiency.
Luckily, supplementing with high-quality magnesium supplements can reverse the severity of such a deficiency.
Muscle spasms tend to be inextricably linked with magnesium deficiency and can become worse over time.
Although the recommended daily dosage of magnesium is 350 mg, those with extreme deficiencies will likely need to take a higher dosage.
Magnesium deficiencies can be detected with routine blood work, and your doctor can best advise you on how much magnesium (or any other dietary supplement) you should be taking.
What are Biofeedback and Neurofeedback?
Biofeedback and neurofeedback have, in recent years, emerged as powerful treatments for ear spasms that do not involve the individual needing to undergo surgery or take medications every day to help with the symptoms.
Instead, these two techniques allow patients and their doctors to look more deeply into what processes are taking place within the body when these symptoms are occurring.
In the 1970’s, researchers like JW House studied tinnitus and began implementing biofeedback techniques, which involved measuring muscle tension within the body as well as the skin’s temperature and the electrodermal response the skin produces.
An individual who is trained in using biofeedback is able to do things like slightly increase their body temperature in one hand at their will, and learning to do so is meant to help negate annoying or painful physical symptoms (such as headaches and migraines).
Neurofeedback is a more recent development and focuses more on what is going on in the brain that could be causing muscle spasms to occur.
This procedure involves monitoring four brainwaves with an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine.
The monitored brainwaves are Alpha (relaxation), Beta (alertness), Delta (deep sleep), and Theta (light sleep).
Those who have undergone neurofeedback have been trained to decrease the intensity of their Beta brainwaves and increase their Alpha waves in order to promote a more relaxed state of being. In some studies, additional relaxation tools have been used, such as soothing music.
Those wanting to undergo biofeedback should be able to locate a biofeedback center in some of the larger cities scattered across the United States.
However, since neurofeedback is still a relatively new form of therapy for muscle spasms, it is more difficult to locate neurofeedback centers. Your best bet is to get a referral from your neurologist.
Giving Acupuncture a Try
When you think of acupuncture, what images come to mind? You most likely conjure up visions of a bunch of needles sticking up out of someone’s bare back.
Did you know that acupuncture has also been successfully used to help treat severe tinnitus and other types of muscle spasms?
Acupuncture therapy is, as Beth Kohn writes, a healing technique that stems back to ancient China. According to traditional Chinese healing, every human being has an inner, invisible life force called “qi” (which is pronounced “Chee”).
Qi is what facilitates various bodily functions. When the body’s “yin” (or bodily fluids like blood and mucous) and “yang” (the bodily processes themselves, such as digestion) become imbalanced, health problems arise.
Tinnitus, for example, would be considered an imbalance between the yin and the yang because something has interfered with the flow of qi in the body.
It is believed that tinnitus is the result of an overabundance of yang (which is regarded as a heating aspect of the body) and a depletion of the yin (which is cooling and relaxing).
The needles used for acupuncture are extremely thin and long, and the acupuncturist gently inserts them one-by-one into the outer layers of the skin.
Since these needles are exponentially more slender than your average hypodermic needle, you will not experience any pain as the needles are inserted.
The needles are sterilized and contain absolutely no medications; in other words, they are just plain needles.
When these needles are inserted into the skin, your body is triggered to release enkephalins (which act as natural pain-relievers) and endorphins (which help you to feel more relaxed).
Oftentimes, an acupuncturist will also recommend herbs and herbal supplements that can aid in healing your ear spasms.
Ginkgo biloba is one of the most commonly-used Chinese herbs for treating tinnitus since, as the University of Maryland Medical Center reminds us, it is shown to be incredibly effective at reducing anxiety and stress.
Using the Zygomatic Hand Pressure Technique
Chances are that you have never heard of zygomatic hand pressure before. This technique has not garnered much in the way of attention as of yet, but it is a method that is on the rise for treated ear-related conditions, especially MEM.
In fact, a 2010 study conducted by Chan and Palaniappan demonstrates that zygomatic hand pressure is potentially more effective at treating MEM than the medications that are popularly prescribed and should be tried before resorting to taking those meds.
So, just how does zygomatic hand pressure work? When you hear the initial burst of clicking in your ear, you interlace the fingers of both hands and place the heels of your palms over the lateral areas of your zygomatic bone (which is the paired bone that forms the prominence of the cheek on each side of your face).
A moderate amount of pressure should be applied using the heels of your palms, all the while keeping in mind that you should not be pressing down so hard that you obstruct your airways.
The zygomatic hand pressure technique should only take about 30 seconds to work. Most people notice that the clicking noises subside after this duration of time.
While zygomatic hand pressure is not a cure for MEM or tinnitus, it is a simple and non-invasive technique that you can perform as soon as you hear the tell-tale clicking noise of your muscle spasming.
Experiencing muscle spasms within your ear is, at best, an annoyance. At its worst, however, this can be downright life-interrupting.
While it can be difficult to get to the root of why your ear muscle is spasming, there are numerous treatment methods that you can try out, many of which are non-invasive and can be done from the comfort of your own home.
Of course, it is crucial that you bring your concerns to your physician so that you can receive any necessary diagnostic testing and treatment that they are able to provide.