Clogged ears can affect hearing and balance and cause pain and discomfort. Tips for unblocking them include yawning, applying ear drops, and using home and medical remedies to treat an underlying condition.

Clogged ears can happen to almost anyone. Children are the most likely to have clogged ears, especially during a cold or sinus infection. People are most likely to experience a clogged feeling in their ears from:

  • earwax buildup
  • blocked Eustachian tube
  • sinus infections, colds, or allergies
  • high altitudes
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Earwax forms a barrier between the opening of the ear and the sensitive apparatus of the inner ear.

Earwax blocks foreign objects from entering the ear. The glands responsible for creating earwax sometimes create too much. This buildup can cause the wax to become hard.

The wax builds up and eventually blocks the entire tube.

Some signs of earwax buildup include:

Ear drops to loosen or soften earwax

The following are some natural solutions people can use to soften the earwax, and allow it to exit the ear safely. These are often added to the ear in the form of drops:

There are many commercial drops specifically made for removing excessive earwax.

Ear irrigation

Ear irrigation is another method that people can try at home. It is important to note that this should not be done at home on anyone who has had surgery or an injury to their ear.

It is also essential that people follow all instructions found on over-the-counter (OTC) kits sold for ear irrigation.

Avoid cotton swabs or tools

People should never use cotton swabs to clean their ears. Cotton swabs can cause blockages by pushing earwax deeper into the ear.

People should also not attempt to dig the earwax out as this can cause damage.

Avoid candling

Another method is known as ear candling, but this is not recommended by science.

For this procedure, people insert a lit, cone-shaped, hollow candle into their ear.

During candling, the heat is supposed to cause a vacuum effect and allow the earwax to stick to the candle as it is pulled out.

This method does not work, however. People are likely to burn their ear, cause a perforation, or an ear canal obstruction.

Anyone experiencing clogged ears should never try this method.

If someone experiences a blocked ear due to an allergy or infection, they will also likely experience one or more of the following symptoms:

In these instances, a person should try to unclog their ear as soon as possible. A person can develop an ear infection when their ear is blocked, which would then require further treatment. The following are some at-home methods to help:

Use steam

Steam can help unclog an ear when the cause is an infection or allergies. This is because the sinuses connect directly back to the ears.

To use steam:

  • heat up the water in a pot until it boils
  • remove the pot from heat and place a towel over it and the head
  • take several deep breaths to inhale the steam

A person can alternatively take a hot shower, as it creates a stream and has a similar effect.

Consider mineral and essential oils

Many oils reportedly have antibiotic, antiseptic, or anti-inflammatory properties. There is an increasing number of studies being conducted to test essential oils.

Some essential oils that are recommended to either help clear mucus, reduce inflammation, or treat infections include:

These can often be inhaled as steam or placed near the nose so that the vapors are breathed in.

Use a warm compress

A warm compress can be applied to drain the nasal passages of mucus and reduce the amount in the ears.

Applying a warm compress is simply done as follows:

  • pour hot water onto a clean washcloth
  • once the cloth is soaked, it should be squeezed out
  • hold the washcloth below the affected ear for about 5 to 10 minutes

Gargle salt water

A saltwater gargle can aid in reducing mucus in both the nose and the ears. It is also an easy remedy.

To use a saltwater gargle, a person needs to add a little salt to some water and mix them together. Once mixed, they should gargle the salt water for a few seconds, then spit it out.

People can try the following in cases of blockage caused by high altitude:

  • yawning
  • swallowing
  • chewing
  • gently blowing the nose while pinching the nostrils shut until a popping sound is heard

People should see a doctor for clogged ears if home remedies fail or if blocked ears are accompanied by any of the following additional symptoms:

  • fever
  • refusal to clear on own
  • pain in the ear
  • loss of hearing
  • cannot be unclogged

The clogged feeling may be a result of an acoustic neuroma in some cases. This is a benign growth that can put pressure on and eventually close the tubes in the ear. A doctor will likely need to remove the growth through surgery if this is the source of the clog.

The following are frequently asked questions about blocked ears:

How do you get rid of a blocked ear feeling?

To remove the feeling of a blocked ear, a person can treat the underlying cause. For example, to loosen and soften earwax buildup, a person can try using ear drops or ear irrigation.

Use a warm compress or gargling water to reduce mucus to ease a clogged ear due to allergies or infections.

Other potential remedies include yawning, swallowing, chewing, or gently blowing the nose while pinching the nostrils shut.

Will a clogged ear go away by itself?

Typically, a clogged ear is temporary and can resolve without intervention, depending on the underlying cause.

Why does my ear feel full?

A person can experience a feeling of fullness in the ear due to a variety of reasons. Examples include sinus congestion, ear infections, changes in altitude, earwax buildup, or a foreign object in the ear.

Other medical conditions can cause a feeling of fullness in the ear, such as meniere’s disease, cholesteatoma, acoustic neuroma, or damage to the temporomandibular joint.

Learn more about ear pressure.

How long does a clogged ear last?

The length of time it takes for a clogged ear to resolve will depend on the underlying cause. However, a person may wish to contact a healthcare professional if a clogged ear has not resolved in 5 days.

Clogged ears are almost never serious but can be irritating and uncomfortable. Most people can relieve their clogged ears using home remedies.

People should never try to use a scraping object or a cotton swab to remove a clog, as these can be quite dangerous.

If someone with a clogged ear does not get relief from home remedies or OTC medications, their doctor should be able to treat the clogged ear for them effectively.

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