Have you ever had a blockage in your ears? It might pass quickly, but in some cases, that clogged feeling can persist for more than a week. If you’re wondering why your ears feel clogged and what you can do about it, we’ve got all the information you need right here.
Causes of Blocked Ears
If your ears feel clogged, it could be several things. It’s usually a sign of a physical blockage in the ear canal caused by fluid, ear wax buildup, or a foreign object, but sometimes it can be due to changes in pressure or trauma to the inner ear.
Excessive Ear Wax
Ear wax is a protective self-cleaning mechanism of the ear. Its role is to clear out debris and microbes from the eustachian tube, or ear canal.
The excess ear wax hardens as the cells and wax layers pile up inside the ear.
Over time, it can become impacted within the middle ear canal. The accumulation of ear wax can leave you with a clogged ear and temporary hearing loss.
Flying and Deep Diving
You may feel like you have clogged ears when traveling on an airplane. The same sensation is also common during some underwater sports like deep diving. When flying or diving, the pressure inside the ear changes suddenly, causing the ear to feel full and sounds to seem muffled.
Congestion in the Eustachian Tubes
You may get a blocked ear if the eustachian tube is clogged with fluid and mucus. Blockages of the eustachian tubes can be caused by allergies as well as viral and bacterial infections.
The buildup of fluid blocks the passage of air through the ear, causing it to feel clogged. Eustachian tube dysfunction can also cause ear fullness.
Your sinuses and ears are part of the same system, so congestion in one can impact the other.
The eustachian tube connects to the nasal-sinus cavity, so your ear may feel full when the sinuses are inflamed or full of fluid and mucus. You might also experience ear pain and muffled sounds.
Water and Other Fluid
Fluid from external or internal sources can get trapped inside your ears.
Liquids that your body naturally produces can also cause a clogged ear. For example, a middle ear infection can lead to excess pus or other bodily fluids that make the ear feel boggy.
Tumors and Growths
Tumors, cysts, and other abnormalities can make the ear feel full and cause hearing loss.
A tumor in the ear could be a benign growth, such as adenomas, noncancerous middle ear tumors, or acoustic neuromas, lumps that form on the auditory nerve. Skin cancers, including melanoma and carcinoma, can develop inside the ear.
Exposure to noise and loud sounds can affect the inner ear. When the hair cells of the inner ear get damaged, it alters the perception of sound and can also create the perception that your ear is full. Trauma to the ears can cause both temporary and long-term hearing loss.
Treating Plugged Ears
Like any medical condition, the treatment depends on the cause. If it’s a physical obstruction, the fix could be as simple as using medicine or home remedies to clear out the blockage. However, if the source is an underlying medical condition, you’ll need to address the disease itself.
Removing Ear Wax
If you’ve got ear wax jamming up your middle ear, you’ll need to clear it out. You can purchase medicated ear drops over the counter. After putting a few in your ear and waiting the recommended time, flush the ear out with warm water.
If the wax is too impacted and at-home remedies aren’t working, you should visit a doctor. They can remove it for you with gentle suction or irrigation.
Dealing With Pressure
The trick is to gradually acclimatize your ear to the pressure at high altitudes and deep depths.
When you get that clogged feeling, you can forcefully blow out air from your mouth while pinching the nose. This is called the Valsalva maneuver.
You can also try and chew gum or yawn to change the air pressure within the ears.
If infections are to blame for your clogged ears, you’ll need treatment. A doctor will examine you for signs of a ruptured eardrum and may recommend antibiotics.
You can also treat the congestion caused by viral and sinus infections by using steam therapy to clear the sinuses and the middle ear.
Flushing Out Fluid
Often fluid will make its way out on its own via evaporation or slowly trickling out. However, there are a few techniques you can use to rid yourself of fluid in the ear. You can try tilting your head sideways and letting gravity do its work, or you might try to flush it out with a solution of fast-evaporating alcohol.
Tumors and growths within the ear typically need to be diagnosed using a combination of hearing tests and MRI or CT scans. If necessary, doctors can remove some benign tumors with concentrated doses of radiation in a procedure called radiosurgery. Cancerous tumors need to be removed through surgery or treated with chemotherapy.
Preventing Clogged Ears
Many of the things that make your ears feel clogged can be avoided or guarded against with a few simple steps:
- Protect your ears: If you’re employed as a construction worker, musician, or in any other profession that involves prolonged exposure to loud noise, always wear earmuffs or earplugs.
- Relieve the pressure: Chew gum when flying or traveling to a high altitude. Wear specialized ear guards and ascend slowly to the surface if you’re going diving.
- Keep water out: Wear earplugs when swimming and always dry your ears after leaving the pool.
- Treat all ear infections: If you have sinusitis or a congested eustachian tube for more than two weeks, see a doctor. Get help right away if you have ear pain and fever.
- Clean your ears regularly: Flush wax from your ears once or twice weekly with ear drops and hot water to prevent wax buildup.
- Get regular cancer screenings: If you have a family history of skin cancer, let your doctor know so they can check for it annually.
When To Get Help
A lot of the time, when your ears feel clogged, the issue resolves on its own within a few minutes. If not, these symptoms can typically be dealt with using home remedies or OTC medications.
However, in severe cases where symptoms persist for two weeks or more, you should seek help from a healthcare professional.
If you notice your symptoms are getting progressively worse, see a doctor immediately. There are some other things to look out for, too. For example, you might have an infection if your clogged ears are accompanied by other symptoms, like:
- Ear pain
- Stiffness in the jaw
- Trouble hearing
- Fluid leakage from the ears or a foul-smelling discharge
If a malignant tumor is the source of your clogged ears, you might notice some other symptoms as well, such as:
- Facial paralysis on the side of the affected ear
- Inability to smile
- Facial tenderness or unequal facial movements
- Swollen lymph nodes
Don’t wait to contact your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Early intervention dramatically reduces cancer mortality.
Clogged ears aren’t usually something to worry about, and the symptoms often go away on their own. Inexpensive, relatively painless treatments can effectively deal with most—but not all—more stubborn cases.
At the same time, you shouldn’t ignore clogged ears when they are accompanied by other symptoms or persist for longer than two weeks. And if you notice symptoms getting progressively worse, you should see a doctor immediately.