Ear plug: causes and treatment

An ear plug is a collection of earwax that builds up in the ear canal. It gives an unpleasant feeling when the ear is closed. It can itch, hurt and you can hear someone else less well, while you hear your own voice very loudly. An ear plug must be treated, otherwise it can lead to an ear infection. You can try to soften the plug yourself with oil and rinse it out. If this does not work, you will have to go to the doctor to have the ear syringed out.

What it is

The most common cause of a closed ear is a plug of earwax in the external ear canal. The earwax can no longer escape from the ear and will gradually accumulate. Earwax is a viscous fluid and consists of, among other things: sebum, hairs, keratin, collagen skin cells, sweat and dirt. The ear produces earwax to protect the ear against bacteria, viruses, moisture and dirt. In addition, the earwax keeps your eardrum flexible. Sometimes too much earwax is produced, or the earwax can no longer be removed. This then accumulates and a clot can form in the ear.


Everyone suffers from it sometimes. The earwax can no longer escape from the ear and the production of earwax continues. People with a narrow ear canal are more likely to suffer from this. A plug in your ear can have various causes, such as:

  • Lots of hair growth in the ear canal
  • Using cotton swabs too often
  • Use earplugs or hearing aids regularly
  • Too much earwax production, for example due to a cold
  • Older age because the earwax becomes friable

Just when people think that the ear is clogged, they pick or insert a cotton swab into the ear to try to remove the dirt. This is counterproductive and will only push the dirt further into the ear. Moreover, this is dangerous because you can damage the eardrum.


A blocked ear can be very annoying. It can itch, cause dizziness, hurt and sometimes make you hear less well. You often hear someone else speak less well, but you hear yourself twice as loud. The sound may also sound a bit duller. Sometimes you hear cracking or popping sounds and feel as if there is water in the ear. After swimming, the complaints can worsen because the plug swells due to the water. An ear plug must be treated, otherwise you can get an ear infection.

What you can do yourself

To soften the plug, you can drip some oil, for example olive oil, salad oil or baby oil, into the ear. You can also use plain water, for example by running water into your ear while showering. If you want to rinse your ear yourself, use lukewarm water. Tilt your head slightly and pull your earlobe down to open your ear canal properly. Use a pipette and inject it into the ear. Be careful not to let the pressure become too high or you could damage your eardrum. If you cannot remove the plug, it hurts or you become dizzy, have it injected by your doctor.

Have the ear syringed out

At many GP practices, the doctor’s assistant will syringe out the ear. Spraying it out is easiest if you have already been dripping for a few days to soften the plug. Usually a cloth is placed on your shoulder and you can hold a receptacle under the ear. A pump with large metal syringes of lukewarm water is pumped into your ear. Although it is not a pleasant feeling, it normally does not hurt. The plug comes out into the collection container. If it is a large or stubborn clot, the procedure may need to be repeated. After syringing out the ear, you often notice that you hear a lot better again. Sometimes you only hear well again when the water in the ear canal has dried.

read more

  • Clogged ear: what can you do about it yourself?
  • Mucus ear: fluid behind the eardrum
  • Ear problems due to a cold
  • Earache: what you can do about it yourself
  • Common causes of hearing loss