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Clogged Ears? The causes, treatments and what to do

By: Paul Harrison Updated: 17th May 2022 in: Hearing Loss Awareness, Latest News, Articles
Why do my ears feel blocked up?

My Ears Feel Block and I Can't Hear Properly

Everything you need to know about blocked ears and clogged ears


Why do my ears feel blocked up?

Ear feels blocked?  Waking up with blocked ears?  Autumn and Winter are beautiful seasons, but with that comes a chill in the air and you are naturally more prone to allergy and ear troubles during the colder months.  For instance, you might have blocked ears without any pain or discomfort.

It can still become an annoyance when sound becomes muffled and distorted and you are left feeling like you are straining to hear.  Blocked ears are also referred to as clogged ears, plugged ears and stuffy ears.

Let's look at some of the common causes & the main symptoms of blocked ears.


Both Ears Blocked - Left Ear Blocked or Both?

Whether it is your left or right - your ears might unblock themselves on their own over a course of a few days, but there are other options to consider that can relieve blocked ears that you can do at home. 

Ear blockages can be rather a serious annoyance with scope to be a genuine health risk, so when a blockage does appear (especially out of the blue) it's not always due to earwax. 

You might have many questions like "why is my ear blocked?", "What are the causes of blocked ear" and "are blocked ears treatable?".  However, before treating blocked ears it is useful to educate yourself on the causes and how we can prevent this in the future.


Blocked Ears

Why do my ears feel blocked all the time?

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction or ETD


What are we covering in this blocked ears article?

  • Are blocked ears a sign of COVID 19?
  • Are blocked ears a symptom of hay fever?
  • Are blocked ears a symptom of cold?
  • Blocked ears causing dizziness.
  • Blocked ears but no wax.
  • Blocked ears causing headaches and more...


Fluid in the Ear - Blockage of the Eustachian tube

This type of blockage is one of the main causes of a blocked ear and this tube attaches your middle ear to your throat.  You might already know, but this tube is where fluid or mucus goes from your ear to the back of your throat - which you then swallow.

So when your Eustachian tube is blocked the fluid can't naturally flow and can become trapped in your middle ear and then cause blockage to your ear.  Blocked ears usually come hand in hand with various infections like sinusitis (sinus pressure).

There are other ailments of this that are brought on by infection, such as coughing, runny nose, sneezing, blocked ears and sore throat.  It is important to unblock your ears as soon as you can, as prolonged trapped fluid in your ear can cause ear infections - which is a build-up of bacteria or a viral infection that reaches your middle ear.


Clogged Ears

Why does my ear seem blocked?

 Blocked ears symptoms & triggers of ETD


  • Swelling & blocked ears from cold:  Caused by sinus troubles, colds and flu.  All these nasties cause your Eustachian tube to swell and can result in a blockage.  Because of the swelling, the tube cannot do its job of flushing fluid and keeping the air flowing.  This means that the inner ear and middle ear cannot work properly and can reduce your ability to hear.
  • Ruptured eardrum or perforated eardrum:  This is when you get a tear in your eardrum (that separates your middle ear and outer ear).  This in turn can cause infections and block your Eustachian tubes, as fluid can build up over time.
  • Blocked ears and nose:  Sometimes a growth in the back of the nose, like adenoids, can obstruct the opening of the Eustachian tube - causing a blockage.


Other Ear Infection Triggers

Blocked ears after swimming?  If you are a keen swimmer, you probably know that swimming can cause ear infections if you don't dry your ears properly afterward, as water can stay in your ears.  This is also known as 'swimmer's ear' or Otitis Externa, where bad bacteria and fungus can develop over time.  This is also called outer-ear infection.


Middle Ear Infection or Otitis Media

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear that results in inflammation and also a build-up of fluid behind your eardrum.  Although anyone can get a middle ear infection, children are more prone to this type - especially babies and toddlers.

There are some signs to look out for which can indicate you have an ear infection.  These are fever, fluid leaking from your ears, ear pain and redness.  If you have used a cotton swab to try and unclog any blockages beforehand, this might be the reason why you are now experiencing pain.


Ears Feel Blocked and Sensitive to Noise

Most of the time plugged ears are caused by Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, but sometimes someone who complains of a continual ear-plugging sensation and increased sensitivity to sound can mean you have hyperacusis.

However, the main causes of hyperacusis are loud noise exposure and ageing, but if you have a blocked ear feeling and you find yourself more sensitive to noise - you need to seek medical help as soon as you can to get a diagnosis and be administered the right treatment if needed.


Ear Ache

Ears feel clogged

Why does my ear feel blocked?  What are the causes?


Ears Blocked With Wax & Ringing

Your earwax does a great job of protecting your ears by naturally cleansing your ear canal so that it stops anything from entering your ears.  It is usually soft, but it can become hard and therefore block your ears over time. 

Ears feel clogged and ringing?  If you are experiencing dizziness, ringing in the ear or earache you might have hardened wax that's blocking your ear.  Blocked ear wax needs to be treated immediately, as it can cause serious damage.  This type of buildup can also limit your hearing abilities and can if left untreated for a long period of time, cause permanent hearing loss.

The main symptoms of earwax buildup are usually earache, hearing problems, blocked ear feeling, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), coughing or discharge from the ear.


Altitude or Barotrauma (Aeroplane Ear)

You can also develop temporary ear blockage troubles when you are walking or driving up a mountain, flying or scuba diving.  This is because when you experience a quick shift in air pressure outside your body - your ears can become blocked or feel clogged up.

Let me explain, your Eustachian tube has many roles and one is to stabilise the pressure in your middle ear.   As altitude grows it sometimes can't stablise pressure successfully and you can then feel the increased air pressure in your ears giving you a blocked ear feeling.

Unfortunately, high altitude conditions can sometimes get too much for the rest of your body to cope with and you can experience sickness, shortness of breath and headaches.


Exposure to Loud Sounds

Your ear can feel blocked or can ring after you've experienced an evening of loud live music.  This should clear within two days. 


Acoustic Neuroma

This is a benign ear growth on the cranial nerve leading from your inner ear to your brain.  These growths are generally quite slow to develop and not big, but even though they are small they can still inflict pressure on the nerves in your inner ear.  This usually results in a blocked ear, ringing in the ear and hearing loss.

Other less common causes of blocked ear are anxiety, Meniere's disease and other balance disorders.


How can you unblock your ear?  Some handy tips to prevent blocked ear: 

  • Cotton swabs are a big no no:  Never put cotton swabs inside your ear, as you can push mucus or earwax deeper inside your ear and cause more damage.
  • Keep your ears dry:  Make sure you dry your hair and ears properly after you have been swimming or bathing to stop any excess fluid going into your ear and to avoid any blockage troubles.
  • To breaks at live events:  To prevent the blocked feeling you get after live music - take breaks where you are away from the direct noise or have intervals when you wear earplugs.
  • Get chewing!:  Chew gum or suck sweets when you are flying or driving/walking up a mountain, as this will relieve the air pressure in a change of altitude in your ears.


Clogged Ears

Treatment for Blocked Nose and Ears

How to open a blocked ear


Ear Drops for Blocked Ear

Try two to three drops of virgin olive oil in the ear(s) that are blocked or baby oil into your ears to try and soften your earwax and dislodge any blockage.  Remember to tilt your head for a minute or so after you have put the drops in so your ears have a chance to flush out anything.


Blocked Ears Hayfever Medication

There are a few blocked ear treatments out on the market today.  You can source over-the-counter remedies that can help un-clog your ears due to sinus troubles, colds or common allergies.  These are normally decongestants like antihistamines - always check with your pharmacy on the best solution for you with your health history in mind.


Use Steam - A common blocked ears remedy you can do at home

Inhaling steam can sometimes help soften excess mucus in your ears.  This could be sitting in your bathroom with your shower on extra hot or pouring hot water into a bowl, putting your head over the top and covering it with a towel.  Placing hot face clothes over your ears can sometimes help loosen ear mucus too.


Valsalva Maneuver - A blocked ear remedy:

  1. Breath in deeply and pinch your nose.
  2. Keep your mouth closed and gently exhale through your nose (don't exhale too hard, as this can damage your eardrum).
  3. This should unclog your ears.
  4. Chew gum or suck on a sweet for fifteen or so minutes to try and keep your Eustachian tube open and clear.


Clogging Of The Ears

How to Get Rid of Blocked Ears

When to see a doctor

 Blocked Ears Treatment

At the end of the day it is always best to contact a professional - either through your local NHS clinic or private practice - to diagnose the cause of your ear blockage.  Do not attempt to try any other at-home remedy beyond what we have suggested you can do safely.


Blocked Ears NHS

If you have tried home remedies or any of the advice we have talked about in this article and you still have blocked ears or a build-up of wax - you must arrange to see your local GP who will check your ears and then refer you to your ENT department if necessary.


Are blocked ears painful?

If you have an Eustachian tube blockage your doctor might prescribe antibiotics, decongestants or anti-fungal medication.  You might also be recommended a course of pain relief to accompany your prescribed medication, as often you can experience pain with blocked ears.  However, if you are diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, you might be referred for surgery.


Blocked Ears COVID

Blocked ears after COVID?  Due to COVID being a respiratory virus this means it can cause congestion, ear pain and sinus pressure - but it is important to remember these are not common symptoms of the virus. 

COVID-19 generally causes fever, chills, cough, sore throat and fatigue.  On the other hand, the Delta variant has been known to cause more common cold symptoms and that would include more earaches.  


My Ear are Blocked:  Get help for blocked ears locally

Your local audiologist can help you with your blocked ears and will give you more information on blocked ears after cold, blocked ears and headache, blocked ears and dizziness, blocked ears and sinus troubles and more symptoms.

If you have blocked ears and would like advice on how to clear a blocked ear and the best treatment with a local audiologist - our consultations can be performed at one of our clinics or as a home visit and will take around 10 to 15 minutes per ear.  We offer traditional syringing, the more popular micro-suction, or even endoscopic suction. The cost is from £40 for one ear or £60 if both ears need doing. 

If you would like to speak to us about your worries regarding blocked ears, if you'd like to book an appointment or would like to speak to an audiologist about your hearing healthcare going forward - then please call us on 0800 567 7621



Read Next:  Earwax - The good & The Bad

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Paul Harrison
Hearing Aid Advisor
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This article was written by audiology expert Paul Harrison

Meet Paul Harrison, Audiology Expert & Founder of Hearing Aid UK

Managing Director & founder of Hearing Aid UK, with over 20 years of audiology experience and a member of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists Council (BSHAA) between 2015-2020.

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