Clogged ears: solve and treat clogged ears (yourself).

Clogged ears or ears that are closed is a relatively common complaint. Clogged ears are an annoying complaint. If your ears are closed or clogged, you will have a blocked feeling in the ear and sometimes ear pain. You often hear less well in the ear in question and you sometimes feel more pressure in the ear canal. Clogged ears are often caused by the ear canal being clogged with a plug of earwax. An earwax plug can come through a narrow ear canal or by pushing earwax back through a cotton swab. A blocked ear can also be caused by blockage of the Eustachian tube, which connects the ears to the back of the nose. This can happen due to a cold or allergy. But it can also occur when flying or diving. Your ear can also become clogged while swimming because you get water in your ear. There are a number of measures you can take to resolve a clogged ear yourself.

  • Symptoms
  • Clogged ears due to earwax
  • Production and removal of earwax
  • Have the ear syringed out
  • Drip olive oil into the ear
  • Soda solution in the ear
  • Closed ear due to cold
  • Eustachian tube blocked
  • Measures to open the Eustachian tube
  • Ears closed after flying
  • Close your ears after flying: tips
  • Close your ears after swimming
  • Getting water out of your ear
  • Foreign object in the ear
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Solve and treat clogged ears yourself
  • Valsalva maneuver
  • Inhale steam
  • Remove trapped moisture
  • Alcohol and apple cider vinegar
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Ear drops
  • Clogged ears and dizziness
  • Consult your GP

Symptoms

Depending on the cause, clogged ears may be accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • pressure on the ears either
  • a feeling of pressure in the ear canal;
  • hearing less well than before (hearing loss)
  • pain in your ear or earache
  • a blocked feeling in the ear, your ear is ‘closed’

Clogged ears due to earwax / Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Clogged ears due to earwax

An earwax plug is the most common cause of closed or clogged ears. The numerous earwax glands in the wall of the outer third of the ear canal continually produce earwax (ear wax, cerumen). This substance has an important task; it not only protects the ear canal (against dehydration), but also the eardrum. The acidic earwax also protects against bacteria and fungi. And because it is greasy, it also has a protective effect against moisture (water repellency). The stuff also catches dust, dirt and insects, so that it does not get further than the entrance to the ear canal.

Production and removal of earwax

The production and drainage of earwax is in balance, but can become unbalanced due to various factors and cause problems. For example, as we get older, earwax thickens more quickly and becomes hard and crumbly. Pushing back wax with a cotton swab or picking your ear with certain objects are also common causes. Another cause is diseases, for example eczema or diabetes. Excessive hair growth in the ear canal or a narrow ear canal due to abnormal construction are also possible causes.

Have the ear syringed out

An earwax plug that blocks the ear canal sometimes needs to be treated by your doctor. This can immediately spray the plug with lukewarm water. Sometimes the plug must be removed with a special instrument. If you have a stubborn ear plug that will not come out, it may be necessary to have it syringed out again after three days. In the intervening days you can drip a few drops of salad oil, olive oil or (soda) water into the ear three times a day.

Drip olive oil into the ear

Prevention is better than cure. In case of stiff earwax, it is advisable to occasionally drop a few drops of salad or olive oil into your ear. This prevents clogged ears due to earwax.

12 = Eustachian tube / Source: Iain, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Soda solution in the ear

Another method to thin the earwax, making it easier for it to come out, is dripping with soda water. By regularly dripping with a soda solution on earwax, you will notice that you have to go to the doctor’s office much less often to have your ears syringed out. A soda solution usually works better than oil. Greasy earwax dissolves well in soda water. A few drops of body-warm soda water in the ear is sufficient. Then let it work for a few minutes (while keeping your head to the side). If you do this for three days in a row, the earwax will become so soft that it will often flow out on its own and there is a chance that you will no longer need to go to the doctor.

Closed ear due to cold

Eustachian tube blocked

The Eustachian tube can become blocked due to a cold or allergy. Because air can no longer get in, the pressure changes and fluid can sometimes build up in the ear. This can cause complaints such as pain in the ear, a full feeling in the ear and sometimes also ear noises (ringing). Your hearing is often worse and you may experience dizziness and difficulty maintaining balance. These complaints can worsen if you change altitude quickly (flying or driving in the mountains).

A man performs the Valsalva maneuver while his ear is examined with an otoscope / Source: US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kate Thornton, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Measures to open the Eustachian tube

There are a number of measures you can take to open the Eustachian tube, which connects the nose/pharynx to the ear, so that the air pressure normalizes: Edmonds technique

Tighten
your soft palate at the back of your throat, as well as your throat muscles. Then bring your jaw forward and move it from front to back and from side to side. You will notice that your tubes open. Then close your nose and blow gently.

Valsalva maneuver
This forces air through the blocked ear canal. First, take a deep breath. Then close your mouth and pinch your nose. Then blow out air through your closed nostrils. If all goes well, you should hear a cracking-popping sound in your ears.

Toynbee technique
This technique is intended to open the Eustachian tube. Pinch your nose and then take a sip of water. Swallow this and repeat this process until you feel your ears pop open.

Ears closed after flying / Source: Fuzz, Pixabay

Ears closed after flying

Ear pain can occur during take-off and descent of an aircraft. This phenomenon is known as ‘aerotitis media’ and is caused by a sudden pressure difference in the middle ear and the surrounding ambient air pressure. As a result, there is tension on the eardrum. This is what you feel. You can sometimes suffer from this for a long time after flying.

Close your ears after flying: tips

You can counteract this by manipulating the Eustachian tube, which allows the air in the middle ear to escape more quickly. This ensures that the pressure difference between the middle ear and the environment is normalized more quickly. You can do this by making certain movements: swallowing, yawning, moving your lower jaw back and forth and by performing the Valsalva maneuver (see above). Chewing gum or candy can also help. This also induces certain movements that cause the Eustachian tube to be stretched.

Ear plugged after swimming / Source: Jarmoluk, Pixabay

Close your ears after swimming

Is your ear clogged by water? You can accidentally get water in your ears while swimming, showering or taking a bath. Water in the ear can cause so-called ‘swimmer’s ear’ or ‘ear canal inflammation’, an inflammation of the ear that can be very annoying and painful. You can prevent this by ensuring that you do not get soap and water in your ear when showering and washing your hair. And after swimming or showering, it is advisable to dry the auricle and the entrance to the ear canal thoroughly. In addition, it is wise to use earplugs when swimming. You can also use ear drops, which are specifically designed to remove fluid from your ear.

Getting water out of your ear

It’s quite easy to get water out of your ear. You can do this by creating a vacuum in your ear. Point the ear with water in it downwards. Then press your ear with the palm of your hand. Do this with a pumping motion where you hear a ‘pop’ and the water comes out. Another method is to simply lie on your side with your ear pointing down. After a few minutes, gravity causes the water to flow out of your ear.

Foreign object in the ear

This is a problem that is more common in children than in adults. If foreign objects are placed in the ear, they can block the ear canal. Even if they don’t completely block the canal, the ear may try to protect itself by producing more wax around the object. Either way, the result is a clogged ear. The easiest method to cope with this problem is removal of the object by a doctor.

Acoustic neuroma

An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor in the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. These tumors are usually small and slow growing. As they grow larger, they can put pressure on the nerves in the inner ear. This can cause a blocked ear, hearing loss and ringing in the ear.

Solve and treat clogged ears yourself

You can solve clogged ears yourself in many cases. In addition to the self-care measures mentioned above, there are other things you can do if you suffer from closed or clogged ears.

Valsalva maneuver

This simple action helps open your Eustachian tube. Take a deep breath and pinch your nose. Keep your mouth closed and try to breathe gently through your nose. This should create enough pressure to ‘pop’ the ear. Do not blow too hard to avoid damaging the eardrum. Once you open the Eustachian tube, chew gum or suck on a hard candy to keep it open.

Inhale steam

Turn on a hot shower and sit in the bathroom for 10 to 15 minutes. The steam from the shower helps dissolve mucus in the ear. Another option is to place a warm washcloth over your ear.

Remove trapped moisture

Insert your index finger into the ear in question and gently move your finger back and down. This technique helps remove trapped moisture. Placing a hair dryer at a low level a few inches from your ear can also help dry the moisture in the ear.

Cloudy apple cider vinegar / Source: Veganbaking.net, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.0)

Alcohol and apple cider vinegar

To combat a bacterial infection that causes clogged ears, you can use a combination of alcohol and apple cider vinegar.

  • Mix equal amounts of alcohol and apple cider vinegar.
  • Lie on your side and use a dropper to place a few drops of this mixture into the affected ear.
  • To prevent the mixture from running out, place a cotton ball in the ear and do not lift your head.
  • Rest for five to ten minutes to allow the mixture to do its work.
  • If the other ear is also clogged, repeat the process with the other ear.

Over-the-counter medications

Over-the-counter medications can treat a clogged ear caused by a sinus infection, cold, or allergy. Take a medicine that shrinks swollen mucous membranes (decongestant) or take an allergy medicine (antihistamine).

Ear drops

There are over-the-counter earwax remedies (ear spray or ear drops) that can dissolve the earwax. This involves thinning the earwax and facilitating its drainage.

Drink plenty of water for clogged ears and dizziness / Source: Mimagephotography/Shutterstock.com

Clogged ears and dizziness

Built-up pressure in the inner ear, including pressure caused by sinus problems, can sometimes cause dizziness. Take the following measures:

  • Do not make quick movements. Don’t stand up too quickly or shake your head too quickly.
  • Drink plenty of fluids or water. Staying hydrated helps keep nasal mucus thin. This helps to drain it and means less nighttime stuffiness.
  • Avoid caffeine, salt, alcohol and tobacco products. These can affect your circulation and small changes in blood flow can affect your ears.

Consult your GP

Usually ear problems such as clogged ears are related to a problem with the sinuses. It is usually not serious and the symptoms often do not last long. They usually go away on their own. Consult your doctor if you:

  • have a fever;
  • You have a headache, facial or ear pain, or swelling that does not get better with over-the-counter medications;
  • Symptoms last longer than a week or keep coming back.

read more

  • Hay fever: symptoms, medications and hay fever tablets
  • Sinus infection: symptoms of a sinus infection
  • Itching in the throat or tickle in the throat: causes and symptoms
  • Colds: stuffy nose, sneezing, fever, sore throat, cough
  • Cracking sound in ear: causes and symptoms of cracking in ears