When your ears are feeling stopped-up or clogged, what you are actually experiencing is a blockage of your eustachian tubes. Your eustachian tubes run between your middle ear and the back of your nose, and if yours have ever become clogged, then you know how annoying it can be. It feels almost like you are constantly wearing earplugs or sticking your fingers in your ear, but there is no visible reason why.
There are a lot of easy things you can do that may unclog your ears, and there are a lot of reasons why they might be clogged in the first place. All of these things will be discussed within this article. You want to remember however, if you cannot unclog them easily yourself, find an ENT or audiologist to help you.
Possible Causes Of A Stopped-up Ear
There are a variety of things that can cause clogged ears, and we will discuss the most common causes first.
- Excessive Ear Wax
Ear wax is your body’s way of keeping your ear clean and protecting your ear, but sometimes your body can make too much of it and it can become impacted causing your ear to feel stopped up. If you believe that earwax is the cause of your clogged ears, the best thing you could do is find a hearing healthcare professional to both diagnose and fix the problem.
- Fluid In The Ear
There are two main reasons that fluid may be the reason that your ears are clogged. In general, the wax in your ears keeps fluid from building up but these two conditions can allow fluid to build up and cause pain or clogging.
- Swimmer’s Ear. Your ears can become clogged from swimming, bathing, or any other moist environment where water enters your eustachian tubes and does not exit. The best thing to do when your ear is clogged is to try to unclog it yourself before it becomes infected. Here are some ways to clear the water:
- Tilt your head towards the side where the water is trapped and gently pull your earlobe.
- Use a warm compress to help encourage the water to drain naturally.
- Yawn, chew, or hold your nose with your finger and blow gently.
- Middle Ear Infection. Both children and adults may experience clogged ears if they develop a middle ear infection due to a fluid buildup behind the eardrum. An infection like this can be painful but it generally clears up on its own given time. If the pain is severe or you discharge fluid from your ear, you should see a doctor immediately.
- Allergies And Sinuses
Your sinuses and ears are connected inside your head so that inflamed sinuses or allergies may have a noticeable effect on your ears. Clogged sinuses can cause pain in your ears, dizziness, and even clogged ears. If you are experiencing clogged ears because of sinus pressure or allergies then you will possibly need medication for it to resolve.
- Altitude Changes
Some people experience clogged ears after scuba diving, flying, driving up a mountain, or other sudden altitude changes. A rapid change in air pressure outside of your body can actually cause the inside of your ears to feel clogged. Your eustachian tube is responsible for equalizing the pressure in your middle ear, but higher altitudes can make it difficult to equalize the pressure. This often goes away when you get back to a normal altitude, but if it lasts more than one or two days you should see a doctor.
- Noise Damage
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when the sensitive structures in the inner ear are damaged by sound. After a loud concert or sporting event, your ears can feel clogged and it can take a little time for your hearing to get back to normal. NIHL, however, is also the most common type of sensorineural hearing loss and this type of hearing loss can be permanent. NIHL can be caused by prolonged exposure to loud noises or a one-time exposure to an abnormally loud noise such as an explosion or blast. If you know you are going into a loud environment, here are some things you can do to prevent permanent hearing loss:
- Wear ear plugs
- Turn down the volume on your television, headphones, or car radio
- Move as far away from the source of the loud noise as possible
Ways To Treat Clogged Ears
There are as many ways to treat clogged ears as there are reasons that your ears become clogged. A lot of the treatment depends on how or why your ears were stopped up to begin with, so diagnosis is key. It is also important to know which part of your ear is clogged so that you have a better idea of how to treat it. The following are some of the easy things you can try when your ears are clogged. If these methods do not work, then you should see a doctor.
- Nasal Sprays
- Oral Decongestants
- Mineral Oil, Hydrogen Peroxide, or an over-the-counter irrigation kit
- Warm Compress
- Chewing Food
- Increase Fluid Intake
- Blow Your Nose Gently
- Valsalva Maneuver (this is when you hold your nose, close your mouth, and blow, you can also call this “popping your ears”)
Tips For A Clogged Middle Ear
When your middle ear is clogged, it is almost always because there is fluid inside your eustachian tube. Your eustachian tube connects your middle ear with your throat. Mucus and fluid flows from the ear through the tube where you swallow it. Sometimes, this process does not work and the fluid and mucus become trapped in the middle ear and cause your ear to clog. This type of blockage usually accompanies an infection so you need to treat the infection to resolve the blockage. In addition, if you do not already have an infection, the trapped fluid can cause an ear infection, if left untreated.
If your middle ear gets clogged, an effective way to handle it is the valsalva maneuver which is described above. This maneuver can be effective when flying, scuba diving, or even if you have a sinus infection or allergies. If it works, it is an easy and safe method for potentially clearing a clogged middle ear.
The other most common reason for a clogged middle ear is a sinus infection or allergies. When you know this is the case, a nasal decongestant or allergy medicine can really help ease your symptoms. Ultimately you often have to let the infection run its course for complete relief.
When To See A Doctor
The truth is that, with your ears, it is almost always best to see a doctor. Not only do your ears control your hearing, but they control your balance as well, so taking care of them should be a priority. In addition, if you believe that your ear is clogged, either with wax or something else, a home remedy to clear the blockage is very rarely a good idea. There are some really simple steps you can take, and you can try those first before seeing a doctor, but if they do not work, an audiologist is your best bet.
Stopped-up Ears: The bottom line
Stopped-up ears can be a mild or major annoyance, but they can also be indicative of deeper health problems. A lot of people try to handle clogged ears on their own only to find out that they do not have the knowledge or expertise to solve the problem. Having clogged ears affects almost every aspect of your life, and when you cannot hear or communicate with others, it can lead to other issues as well. Sometimes the fix is simple and can be handled simply by yawning or taking a decongestant, but other times the problem is more significant. If your ears are stopped-up for longer than even one day, it is important and necessary to see a doctor before the problem turns into something even bigger.