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Why Do My Ears Get Clogged & What is its Treatment and Prognosis?

A clogged ear feels like a heavy sensation or feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear, muffled hearing and can also be accompanied by pain in the ear and dizziness.(1)

A clogged ear need not necessarily cause discomfort or pain, but the muffled hearing sensation and the effort that goes in trying to hear can be bothersome.(1) A clogged ear usually clears on its own within some hours or couple of days. However, if you want fast relief, then you can try some simple home remedies to unclog your ear.

It can be helpful to find out the potential cause of the ear blockage before trying to clear it. Finding the cause of clogged ear helps in treatment and prevention of this problem in the future.

Why Do My Ears Get Clogged & What is its Treatment and Prognosis?

Why Do My Ears Get Clogged?

Some of the common causes clogged ears are:

Your Ears Can Get Clogged Because of Higher Altitude

Temporary ear clogging can occur after flying in an airplane, climbing or driving up a mountain or while scuba diving. Rapid changes in the pressure of the atmospheric air cause this type of ear blockage. One of the functions of the Eustachian tube is equalizing the pressure within the middle ear.(2) However, at higher altitudes, it is unable to properly equalize the pressure and this air pressure change is felt in the ears as clogged ear. Any change in the altitude can result in a clogged ear as its side effect. If a person suffers from high altitude sickness, then it can also cause shortness of breath, nausea or headache.

Blockage in the Eustachian Tube

A Eustachian tube is the middle part of the inner tube, which attaches the middle ear to the throat and any type of blockage in this can result in a clogged ear. Mucus and fluid pass from the ear to the posterior side of the throat via Eustachian tube. However, when the mucus or the fluid, instead of flowing down the throat, can get trapped in the middle ear and this results in clogging of the ear. This often happens with an infection, such as sinusitis, influenza or the common cold.(3) Blockage in the Eustachian tube can also be caused by Allergic rhinitis.

The clogged ear developing due to allergies or infection can also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as: Sore throat, sneezing, coughing and runny nose. It is important to clear the ear blockage or the clogged ear as the fluid trapped within the ear can lead to ear infection, which can cause more problems.

Ear infection can also develop from swimming when the water from the pool water remains in the ear. This condition is termed as swimmer’s ear. The moist environment provides ample home for the growth of ear infection or bacteria. Some of the signs of an ear infection are: Fever, fluid drainage, redness and ear pain. 

You Ears Are Clogged Because Of Acoustic Neuroma(4)

Acoustic neuroma is a condition where there is development of a benign growth on the cranial nerve which passes to the brain from the inner ear. Acoustic neuroma is often small and slow-growing. However, as their growth increases they can exert pressure on the nerves of the inner ear resulting in clogged ear, tinnitus and loss of hearing loss.

Earwax Causing Clogged Ears(5, 6)

Earwax helps and protects the ears by cleansing the ear ducts and by preventing any type of debris from entering the ear.(5) The ear wax is soft initially but over a period of time can harden and result in blockage within the ear. Other accompanying symptoms of clogged ears from earwax are: dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and earache. These types of blockages can also occur when someone uses a cotton swab to clean their ear. It is not advisable to use cotton swabs within the ear, as it can push the earwax more inside the ear.

How to Treat a Clogged Ear?

A clogged ear though annoying is easily treatable with simple home remedies which are discussed below.

Steam Inhalation to Unclog the Clogged Ear(8)

Sit in your bathroom after turning on a hot shower for about 10 to 15 minutes. The steam coming from the hot water helps in loosening the mucus present in the ear. One more thing that can be done to pop open your ears is to place a warm or hot washcloth over the clogged ear.

The Valsalva Maneuver for Clearing Clogged Ear(8)

This is a simple trick which is beneficial in opening the Eustachian tube. To perform Valsalva maneuver, one has to take a deep breath and then pinch their nose. Keeping the mouth closed, gently exhale as if you are trying to blow a balloon. This creates sufficient pressure to unclog or “pop” the ear. Blowing too hard should be avoided as it can damage the eardrum. After the Eustachian tube is unclogged, then it is advised to suck on hard candy or chew gum to keep it opened.

Dislodging the Trapped Fluid Within the Ear

Place your index finger into the clogged ear and gently and slowly move the finger up and down. This type of movement helps in dislodging the fluid trapped within the ear. Other than this, you can also use a hair dryer keeping on a low heat setting and placing it a few inches from the affected ear. This will help in drying up of the trapped fluid and unclog the ear.

Ear Drops for Treating Clogged Ear(5, 6, 7, 8)

Using an earwax removal kit helps in softening of the earwax and flushing it out. Alternatively, one can also use a couple of drops of warm baby oil, mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide into the affected ear with the help of a medicine dropper. After using any eardrops, it is important to keep the head tilted for some seconds to help flush out the ear wax.

Over-The-Counter Medication for Treating Clogged Ear

Over-the-counter medications can be utilized for treating a clogged ear due to allergies colds or sinus drainage. Taking any sinus or cold medication, which is a decongestant or an antihistamine helps in clearing the blockage of the ear.

When to Consult a Doctor Regarding Clogged Ear?

If the home remedies do not resolve your clogged ear issue, then it is better to consult your doctor. You may require manual removal of the accumulated wax by an E.N.T. doctor.(7) Specialized tools are used by them to create suction and thus easy removal of ear wax.(7) Some of the prescription medications in case of blockage of the Eustachian tube are: antihistamine; antifungal medicine in case of swimmer’s ear; and antibiotic in case of bacterial ear or sinus infection. Pain relievers can also be prescribed to alleviate the pain accompanied with the clogged ear. Some of the pain meds include: naproxen sodium; acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

In case of acoustic neuroma causing the ear blockage or clogged ear, then surgery is needed only if this benign tumor is large or if it is hampering with your hearing.

Prognosis for Clogged Ears

Prognosis for clogged ears is excellent, as this is a temporary situation and can be successfully treated with home remedies and OTC medications. If the ears continue to be clogged and symptoms such as pain, tinnitus and hearing loss persist, then it is better to consult a specialist for treating the cause of your clogged ear.


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 24, 2022

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