How to Unclog Your Ears

Janis

By Janis | Updated January 1, 2024

Unclogging your ears can be a simple task, but it’s important to know the proper techniques to avoid causing damage. With a few easy steps, you can safely relieve the pressure and discomfort that often accompanies blocked ears.

There are various methods available to help you clear your ears, such as yawning, swallowing, or using over-the-counter products. 

This article will discuss some of the most effective strategies for unclogging your ears so you can return to feeling more comfortable and hearing more clearly.

Clogged Ears and its Causes

Clogged ears, a common discomfort, can be caused by various factors. It’s essential to understand the reasons behind this issue to address it effectively. In this section, we’ll explore the causes and contributing factors of clogged ears. 

Build-up of Earwax

Clogged ears can result from various factors, with earwax build-up being a common culprit. Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance that helps protect and lubricate the ear canal. 

However, when earwax accumulates excessively, it can obstruct the ear canal, causing a sensation of fullness or reduced hearing. In some cases, using cotton swabs or inserting foreign objects into the ear can push earwax deeper, exacerbating the blockage.

Foreign Objects in Your Ear

One of the less common but potentially dangerous causes of clogged ears is the presence of foreign objects. This can happen when small items like beads, insects, or cotton swabs get lodged in the ear canal. 

Foreign objects not only obstruct the ear’s normal functioning but can also pose a risk of injury or infection if not removed promptly and properly. 

Changes in Air Pressure 

Another common cause of clogged ears is changes in air pressure, typically experienced during activities such as flying or scuba diving. Exposure to pressure changes may affect the pressure-regulating tube known as the eustachian tube. 

When these tubes become blocked or fail to equalize pressure properly, it can lead to ear congestion and discomfort. Understanding these triggers is essential for effectively addressing and preventing clogged ears.

Water Trapped in Ears

Trapped water, often referred to as “swimmer’s ear,” is a common cause of clogged ears, especially after swimming or bathing. 

Water that remains in the ear canal can create a moist environment where bacteria can thrive, leading to inflammation and blockage. 

Sinus Congestion

Sinus congestion, a common condition, can result in clogged ears due to the interconnectedness of the ear, nose, and throat. 

When the sinuses become blocked or inflamed, it can affect the Eustachian tube’s ability to regulate ear pressure, leading to discomfort.

Colds and Respiratory Infection

Colds can lead to clogged ears due to the congestion and inflammation of the Eustachian tubes. 

Respiratory infections, including bronchitis and sinusitis, can also contribute to clogged ears. 

Ear Infection and Dysfunction

Ear infections, whether in the middle or outer ear, can result in ear blockage and discomfort. 

Eustachian tube dysfunction can also lead to ear congestion and affect your hearing.

Ways to Treat Clogged Ears

Whether it’s caused by earwax build-up, changes in altitude, or an underlying medical condition, there are safe and practical ways to unclog your ears and regain your auditory comfort. 

Changing Your Position

Changing your body’s position can affect ear pressure. Tilt your head or lie on your side to allow any trapped fluid to drain and equalize the pressure. 

This may be particularly helpful during altitude changes, like airplane travel.

Simple Movements

To relieve a clogged middle ear, try the Valsalva Maneuver: pinch your nose, close your mouth, and gently blow. This creates pressure to open your Eustachian tubes. 

Alternatively, attempt the Toynbee Maneuver: pinch your nose and swallow.

Swallow, Chew, or Yawn 

You can try to clear your Eustachian tubes by swallowing, chewing gum, or yawning.

This helps to open up the tubes and relieve pressure.

Warm Compress or Steam

Apply a warm compress to the affected ear or inhale steam from a bowl of hot water. 

This can help relieve ear pain and encourage trapped fluid to drain.

Ear Irrigation

Using a bulb syringe and saline solution, gently flush out the excess earwax. 

Do not force the solution into the ear, as it can cause pain or injury. This should only be done if there’s no infection, drainage, or discharge.

Mineral Oil

To soften earwax and relieve ear discomfort, use mineral oil. Put a few drops into the affected ear and let it sit for a few minutes. 

Avoid using cotton swabs, as they can push the earwax further in.

Hydrogen Peroxide or Carbamide Peroxide Otic

These solutions break down earwax, helping remove build-up. 

Apply a few drops, wait a few minutes, and then tilt your head to drain the solution.

Ear Drops 

For a clogged ear due to earwax build-up, you may want to use over-the-counter ear drops or oil solutions to soften the wax.

Choose ear drops specifically designed for earwax removal. Follow the instructions on the packaging, but generally apply a few drops to the affected ear.

Nasal Spray and Oral Decongestants

If your clogged ears are due to allergies or a sinus infection, consider using nasal sprays or oral decongestants. These medications reduce inflammation of the sinuses, which can help open your Eustachian tubes. 

Antihistamines are also an option, as they help with allergies. Note that extended use of nasal sprays may exacerbate symptoms, so follow dosage instructions carefully. Consult a doctor if symptoms persist or worsen.

Exercising Caution

When dealing with clogged ears, it’s important to remember safety first. Avoid inserting any foreign objects into your ears, as this may cause damage or worsen the situation. Instead, try non-invasive techniques to relieve pressure and congestion.

If you experience a persistent cough, this may be a sign of a more serious issue. In such cases, consult a medical professional for proper evaluation and treatment.

If you suspect a perforated eardrum, it’s crucial to exercise extreme caution when attempting to unclog your ears. Avoid introducing any liquids, like ear drops, as they can seep into the middle ear through the perforation. 

Refrain from inserting any objects or using forceful methods, as they may exacerbate the condition. 

Consult a medical professional promptly for a proper assessment and guidance on the best course of action to avoid further complications.

Affected Parts of the Ear

A clogged ear can affect different parts of the ear, including:

Outer Ear 

Clogs in the outer ear are often caused by earwax build-up, discharge from an infection, or foreign objects lodged in the ear canal.

These can affect the whole ear canal from the orifice up to the tympanic membrane or eardrum.

Middle Ear 

The middle ear is located behind the eardrum and contains three tiny bones called ossicles. 

Clogs in the middle ear can result from issues like Eustachian tube dysfunction, which can occur due to allergies, sinus infections, or changes in air pressure.

Inner Ear 

Clogs in the inner ear are less common and are usually related to more severe conditions, such as Meniere’s disease or other vestibular disorders. These conditions can affect balance and hearing.

Your healthcare provider will create a treatment and management plan for your condition based on the part that is affected, as well as address the underlying cause. It’s important to identify the cause of the blockage to determine the appropriate treatment method.

When to Get Help

Sometimes, unclogging your ears requires professional assistance. If you suspect an infection, risk of injury, or experience severe pain while trying to apply the above methods, immediately stop any attempts at unclogging your ears.

Always consult a medical professional if you experience severe ear pain, discharge, fever, or trauma to your ears.

In cases of barotrauma caused by rapid changes in air pressure, consult an ear, nose, and throat specialist. They can evaluate your ears and recommend proper care.

After ear surgery, follow your surgeon’s instructions for care. If you’re unsure about any guidelines, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider.

They may prescribe medications, such as antibiotics for bacterial infections, or recommend further treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do for congested ears?

You can try various home remedies, such as the Valsalva maneuver, yawning, or swallowing. 

Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy may help. Using over-the-counter ear drops or a humidifier can be beneficial. If congestion persists, consult a healthcare professional.

How do I stop my ears from ringing and feeling clogged?

First, identify the cause of the congestion. Removing earwax, addressing sinus issues, or taking appropriate medication may help. 

Avoid exposure to loud noise, stay well-hydrated, and manage stress to prevent ringing. If the problem persists, consult an audiologist or an otolaryngologist.

What causes a suddenly blocked ear?

A sudden blocked ear may be due to multiple reasons, including a build-up of earwax, rapid altitude changes, or exposure to loud noise. 

It might also be caused by a medical condition, such as an ear or sinus infection. Consult a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause.

How can I improve hearing in a blocked ear?

Identify and address the underlying cause(s) of blockage. Use safe at-home methods to unclog the ear or seek medical advice. 

Adopting healthy hearing habits, such as controlling the volume of your listening devices, can also help prevent future blockages.

What should I do if my ear is clogged for a long time?

If your ear remains clogged for an extended period, consult a healthcare professional.

Prolonged blockage may be due to various reasons, which require proper diagnosis and treatment.

How do I relieve ear pressure without pain?

Perform ear pressure-relieving techniques such as yawning, swallowing, or carrying out the Valsalva maneuver. 

A warm compress applied to the affected ear may also provide relief. If the pressure does not subside, seek medical assistance.