What Could Be Causing My Clogged Ear, and How to Fix It

Wax buildup or altitude can both contribute to ear discomfort. There may be more severe causes in some cases.

The inconvenient muffled sounds and having to strain to hear that come from an ear that is clogged may not be painful, but they are annoying nonetheless.

There's a chance that after a few days, your ear will unblock on its own. However, a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications can bring swift relief.

It is important to determine what is causing a blocked ear as you work to clear it. Together, you and your doctor will be able to figure out the most effective method of eliminating the obstruction and avoiding its return.

In addition to the following, the following can also contribute to ear congestion:

Cause #1: Obstruction of the Eustachian tube

One possible cause of a blocked ear is Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD). A person's middle ear and throat are joined by a passage called the Eustachian tube. This tube connects the ear to the back of the throat, where fluid and mucus are swallowed.

Fluid and mucus can sometimes clog the ear by getting stuck in the middle ear instead of draining down the throat. Infections like the common cold, influenza, and sinusitis often go hand in hand with this blockage. A blockage of the Eustachian tube is another potential complication of allergic rhinitis.

Also, if an infection or allergies are to blame for your blockage, you might experience:

  • runny nose
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • Throat pain

Ear infections, caused by bacteria or viruses entering the middle ear through a blocked Eustachian tube, warrant urgent unblocking of the tube.

Elevated Position

The Eustachian tube helps maintain pressure balance in the middle ear. It struggles to maintain a constant atmospheric pressure during rapid changes in altitude. Therefore, the ears are the first to register the shift in atmospheric pressure.

Occasional ear blockage is experienced by some scuba divers and mountain drivers, but it most commonly occurs during takeoff and landing of an airplane.

Clogged ears are sometimes the only negative effect of a high altitude. However, barotrauma or "airplane ear" is the medical term for the same condition when accompanied by pain, hearing loss, or dizziness.

You may be experiencing altitude sickness if you also have a headache, nausea, or difficulty breathing.

2. Otitis media

Infections of the ear can also cause a blockage. Ear infections can be divided into two categories:

  • Outer ear infection, also known as swimmer's ear or otitis externa. This occurs when swimming leaves water in the ear canal. This wet setting is ideal for the proliferation of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. Additionally, you may experience a high temperature, redness, fluid discharge, and ear pain.
  • Definition of otitis media - inflammation of the middle ear. In this way, germs and bacteria are able to enter the middle ear and spread throughout the area. An infection of the respiratory system is usually the cause of this complication. This infection not only causes pain and fever, but it can also cause balance and hearing problems.

3. Earwax

When you have healthy earwax, it keeps the ear canal clean and debris out.

Wax is normally pliable, but when it hardens, it can block the ear canal. An earwax obstruction can also be caused by excessive wax. Some additional signs may present themselves when earwax causes an ear to become blocked:

  • an earache
  • distressing ear noises
  • noise suppression
  • dizziness

These obstructions are sometimes caused by the use of a cotton swab to clean the ear canal. Ear canals are not the place for cotton swabs. Earwax may be pushed further into the ear canal by using this method.

4. Cholestasis

Skin that develops in the space behind the eardrum is called a cholesteatoma. It can be inherited or brought on by frequent ear infections in childhood. It does not cause cancer.

Having a cholesteatoma is most often described as having a blocked or painful sensation in the ear, or pressure. Other symptoms include a foul-smelling ear discharge and a slow decline in hearing.

If you go to the doctor, they will examine your ear to rule out ear infections since the symptoms are so similar.

A clogged ear can be an annoyance, but depending on the root cause, it may be treatable at home.

Expunge stagnant fluid

If the issue is due to fluid buildup in the ear canal, you can try inserting your index finger into the ear and moving it up and down to dislodge the fluid.

Drying the fluid in the ear with a hairdryer on a low heat setting held a few inches from the ear canal may also be helpful.

Make use of the Valsalva Manoeuvre

This method can be used to open the Eustachian tube and drain any excess fluid from behind the eardrum. In order to execute the Valsalva maneuver, one must inhale deeply and then pinch one's nose.

Try breathing out slowly and gently through your nose while keeping your mouth closed. An ear can be "popped" or unclogged by the resulting pressure.

You could potentially rupture your eardrum if you blow too hard. If you want to keep your Eustachian tube open after it has opened, chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can help.

Instead of blowing up, another variation of this exercise involves swallowing. The technical term for this action is the "Toynbee maneuver."

Raise your steaming head and take a deep breath.

Relax in the comfort of a hot shower. Mucus in the ear can be relieved with the aid of the steam from the hot water. You can also try placing a warm or hot washcloth over your ear.

Use a drug available without a prescription.

Clogged ears from sinus drainage, colds, or allergies can be treated with OTC medication.

A decongestant-containing cold or sinus medication, an antihistamine, or both may help. Take note of and adhere to all label instructions.

Ear drops

Earwax can be loosened and flushed out of the ear with the help of a wax removal kit. It's also possible to use a medicine dropper to insert a few drops of warm mineral oil, baby oil, or hydrogen peroxide into your ear.

After putting in the drops, tilt your head for a few seconds to help gravity help flush the wax out of your ear. Getting rid of earwax with a cotton swab or anything else is not recommended. In addition, if you have ear drainage, a perforated eardrum, or ear tubes, you should not remove earwax.

Find out how to clean your ears without causing damage.

If home remedies don't help clear your ears, see a doctor. A buildup of wax can require the assistance of a specialist in ear, nose, and throat medicine to remove.

The care of the ears is the specialty of otolaryngologists. Ear wax can be removed with the help of suction and specialized instruments.

If you go to a pediatrician or family doctor, they might use a syringe to flush your ears with water and saline.

To treat a blockage of the Eustachian tube, your doctor may prescribe:

  • antibacterial drugs (sinusitis, ear infection)
  • remedies for allergies such as antihistamine pills or nasal sprays

A blocked ear, especially if accompanied by an ear infection, can be quite painful. Try one of these over-the-counter pain relievers if you need them:

  • muscle pain reliever containing ibuprofen
  • Tylenol, or acetaminophen, is an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  • (Aleve) sodium naproxen

Many people can treat their own clogged ears with over-the-counter or home remedies medications, and the condition usually only lasts a short time.

If, despite trying home remedies, you are still experiencing difficulty hearing, ringing in the ears, or pain, you should see a doctor. Ear wax can be removed manually or with eardrops that require a prescription.

The most recent comprehensive medical examination was performed on January 19, 2023.

When new information becomes available, our articles are updated to reflect our experts' diligent monitoring of the health and wellness space.

Jan 20, 2023

Written By

Higuera, Valencia.

Reviewed by a Medical Expert

Dr. Nicole Aaronson, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP

Edited by:

S. DeRemer Siobhan

Mar 8, 2019

Written By

Higuera, Valencia.

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