You can try several home remedies to unclog your ears at home.
You can try several home remedies to unclog your ears at home.

You may try the following home remedies to unclog your ears:

  • Chew constantly: If your ears are plugged, try swallowing repeatedly, yawning with your mouth wide open, or chewing sugar-free gum to open your eustachian tubes.
  • Pop your ears (Valsalva maneuver): To perform the Valsalva maneuver, you have to hold your nose closed with your thumb and index finger placed on either side of your nostrils. Now blow out while keeping your lips closed and allowing your cheeks to puff up. This maneuver will cause an instant “popping” sensation and provide relief from the stuffy or clogged sensation. Do not do it repeatedly though.
  • Irrigate your ears: Try an over-the-counter (OTC) ear irrigation kit to unclog your ears. Do this carefully following the instructions that come with the kit. Do not do ear irrigation if you’ve had recent ear surgery or an active ear infection. You can do it two or three times a day or as instructed by your healthcare professional.
  • Use hydrogen peroxide ear drops: To use hydrogen peroxide drops, use a 5-mL dropper or syringe to put 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution into your ears. After that, tilt your head in the opposite direction of the affected ear. You may feel some fizzing in the affected ear as the wax is dissolved in the peroxide solution. Clean your ears with a soft cloth. Do not use a higher concentration because it may cause burning inside the eyes. Use this solution twice a day for two days.
  • Apply warm compresses: Use steam or warm compresses to help unclog the ears. To do this, place a warm compress on the affected ear to allow steam to get inside the ear. Taking a hot shower for 10 to 15 minutes may also serve the same purpose.
  • Use oil drops: You can use olive oil, baby oil, or mineral oil to clear clogged ears. Make sure the oil is lukewarm and add two to three drops into the affected ear. Tilt your head for 15 to 20 seconds. Wipe the ear and repeat the process two to three times to remove the collected wax.
  • Use OTC nasal decongestants: These may provide relief from clogged ears, especially when you have nasal or sinus inflammation. Use OTC ear drops according to the label instructions. Although these home remedies generally help unclog the ears, it is advised to seek professional help whenever possible. Avoid using cotton swabs or candle methods to unclog your ears. You must consult your doctor if
    • Your ears stay persistently clogged.
    • There is severe ear pain.
    • You develop a fever.
    • You have persistent or increasing facial swelling.
    • You develop hearing loss.
    • You have ear discharge.

What are the symptoms of clogged ears?

Clogged or stuffy ears may cause considerable discomfort that includes:

What are the causes of clogged ears?

Cold weather is not all about pretty snowfalls, campfires, and cozy garments. It also brings about several health issues such as a stuffy nose and clogged ears.

Your ears are connected to your nose through a tube-like passage known as the eustachian tube. Swelling or blockage of the eustachian tube causes clogged ears. This may affect one or both ears.

Clogged ears may result due to several causes such as:

  • Sinus or ear inflammation due to colds, allergies, or infections
  • Excessive ear wax
  • High altitudes
  • Fluid accumulation in the ears
  • Inflammation of the eustachian tubes
  • A growth or tumor in the ear (this can cause persistently clogged ears)

What causes clogged ears besides wax?

ear feels clogged, but no wax
Here are 6 causes of a clogged ear, which include a blockade of the eustachian tube, swimmer’s ear, acoustic neuroma, and noise damage.

Ears become clogged due to the etiology both within and outside the ear. Ear clogging can impair hearing and balance, as well as cause pain and discomfort.

Clogging of ears is seen in all age groups, and one of the most common causes of a clogged ear is the buildup of ear wax. Besides ear wax, various other factors clog the ears.

Here are the 6 causes of a clogged ear:

  1. Blockade of eustachian tube:
    • Ears feel clogged when the eustachian tube (a small tube that runs from the middle to the back of the nose) is blocked.
    • The eustachian tube drains fluids from the ear into the nose and balances the pressure in the middle ear. When it blocks the fluid, the mucus does not drain, accumulates in the middle ear, and causes the ear clog. This results in the buildup of pressure in the middle ear, and the ear feels fuller.
    • Infections cause the eustachian tube to block, such as:
  2. Swimmer’s ear:
    • The early stages of an outer ear infection, often called the swimmer's ear, are frequently characterized by muffled hearing or a sensation of congested ears. There may be discharge in some circumstances. This may progress to fungal otitis media.
  3. Acoustic neuroma:
    • Acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the cranial nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. These tumors are often slow-growing and tiny.
    • They can, however, impose pressure on nerves in the inner ear when they grow. This can result in ear blockage, hearing loss, and ringing in the ear.
  4. Noise damage (noise-induced hearing loss):
    • One of the most prevalent kinds of sensorineural hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
    • The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) found that up to 40 million Americans suffer from hearing loss in one or both ears due to long-term exposure to excessive noises or a one-time exposure to extraordinarily loud noise, such as an explosion or a blast.
    • After exposure to a blast, one may have temporary hearing loss for 48 hours. 
    • To avoid irreversible hearing loss, a person may follow the listed steps when they are at a noisy place.
      • Use earplugs or other hearing protection equipment.
      • Reduce the volume on the television, vehicle radio, or any other personal electronic item while listening with earphones.
      • If one cannot shield their ears from the noise or turn the noise down, they should get as far away from it as possible.
  5. High altitudes:
    • While scuba diving, driving up a mountain or flying in an airplane, some people have transient ear congestion. This obstruction is caused by a sudden shift in air pressure outside the body.
    • The eustachian tube oversees balancing pressure in the middle ear. However, at higher altitudes, it may not always be able to effectively balance pressure. 
      • As a result, changes in air pressure are experienced in the ears. 
      • Sometimes the only negative effect of changing altitude is a plugged ear.
      • One may have headaches, nausea, or shortness of breath if one gets high altitude sickness.
  6. Head injury:
    • Traumatic head injuries can create a sensation of aural fullness, or the sensation that the ears will not pop.

3 rare conditions that cause clogged ears

Here are 3 rare conditions that cause clogged ears:

  1. Meniere’s disease
    • Meniere’s disease affects the inner ear and produces symptoms, such as plugged ears, hearing loss, dizziness, and persistent buzzing. The exact cause for the development of Meniere’s disease is unknown, but it appears to be more common in adults between the ages of 20 and 50 years.
    • Because there is no known cause, there is no cure for this condition. Nevertheless, it can be managed with medicines prescribed by a doctor. These drugs will help reduce symptoms daily, particularly dizziness and the sense of having a blocked ear.
  2. Cholesteatoma
    • Cholesteatoma is a rare ear condition, but patients with recurring ear infections have high chances of developing it. Cholesteatoma is an abnormal skin development inside the ear canal that forms a cyst and stops sound from entering, giving the feeling of a clogged ear.
    • The doctor may prescribe ear drops to ease symptoms, but a small surgery may be required to remove the cyst and eliminate the symptoms.
  3. Labyrinthitis
    • Although labyrinthitis is uncommon, it is a rather frequent ear issue characterized by acute dizziness and a clogged ear. Patients suffering from labyrinthitis experience a ringing or buzzing sound, lose their balance, and briefly their hearing.
    • There is no definitive cure for labyrinthitis because it peaks at different periods throughout the year. It is recommended to consult a doctor to determine the origin of the labyrinthitis and begin appropriate medication to reduce symptoms, particularly during peaks. This helps improve the quality of life.
    • To summarize, many people effectively self-treat blocked ears using home remedies and over-the-counter drugs. Patients with clogged ears may experience other symptoms, such as:
      • Severe pain in the ear
      • Stuffiness of the nose
      • Pain radiating to the jaw
      • Headache
      • Fever
      • Swallowing difficulty
      • Temporary hearing loss

If the ears are still blocked after trying many home cures, see a doctor, especially if you are suffering from hearing loss or have ringing in your ears or discomfort. Treating the cause will ease the symptoms.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Medscape Medical Reference

Cleveland Clinic https://health.clevelandclinic.org/ear-wax-removal-101-the-best-and-safest-ways-to-clear-clogged-ears/

Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/expert-answers/plugged-ears/faq-20058092

Northern Health https://www.nh.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Hydrogen-Peroxide-Ear-Drops.pdf

University of Michigan Health System. Blocked Eustachian Tubes. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uf9680

Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ear – Congestion. https://www.seattlechildrens.org/conditions/a-z/ear-congestion/

Omaha ENT. What Causes Clogged or Ringing Ears. https://omahasinus.com/what-causes-clogged-or-ringing-ears/

Healthy Me PA. 3 Causes and 3 Remedies for Clogged Ears. https://www.healthymepa.com/2018/09/24/3-causes-3-remedies-clogged-ears/