5 Reasons Your Ears Feel Clogged

Having a clogged ear (or more frustratingly, two clogged ears) can range from being annoying and uncomfortable to painful and a risk to your health. When your ears are clogged your hearing can be muffled or distorted. Having blocked ears is not just irritating but it is often accompanied by other symptoms such as dizziness, itchiness and ear pain.

When your ears start to feel clogged, especially if the sensation has come out of the blue, you may wonder what has caused it. Surprisingly, it’s not only a build-up of wax than can block your ears. There are several causes of clogged ears, here are five of the most common.

Earwax blockage

Earwax plays a vital role in protecting your ear from bacteria, dust and dirt and keeps your ears lubricated and clean. But sometimes excess earwax can build up and harden and become difficult to dislodge and wash away. This can make your ears susceptible to blockages and causes that clogged feeling. When earwax becomes impacted it can cause temporary hearing loss and other symptoms, such as:

  • Hearing loss
  • Ears feel full or plugged
  • Ear odour
  • Discharge from the ears
  • An ache or pain in the ear
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Coughing
  • Itching

If you suspect that you may have an earwax blockage, the safest way to clear it is by having it treated by your doctor or hearing care professional.

Changes in altitude

If the pressure of the air outside your ears is different from that of the pressure in your ears, your ears can start to feel clogged. Usually with repeated yawning or swallowing the Eustachian tubes that connect the ear to the throat will open and align the air pressure so your ears unclog.

However, it can sometimes cause damage to the eardrum which is called barotrauma and often experienced by people who fly, scuba dive or hike at high altitudes. It can cause ear pain, dizziness, hearing loss and a pressured feeling in your ears. In most cases, the symptoms will resolve by themselves. However, chewing gum on flights can help to open the Eustachian tube. Meanwhile, if you like to scuba dive, then make sure you come up to the surface as soon as you notice any discomfort in your ears.

Fluid in the ear

More commonly known as swimmer’s ear, otitis externa happens when there is an infection or inflammation in the canal between the eardrum and outer ear. It is often caused by exposure to water (hence the term swimmer’s ear) or overcleaning of the ear. Fluid in the ear can affect hearing and also cause itchiness, discomfort and pain. It can happen as a result of swimming but also bathing or spending time in a moist environment. The fluid should usually drain with a day or so.

If you suspect that you may have fluid in the ear, there are two exercises you can try to help the fluid drain from your ear:

  • Tilt your head to one side and pull on your earlobe
  • Yawn, chew or move your jaw several times

If your symptoms persist, or you have severe pain or discharge then you should schedule a consultation with a hearing care professional or your doctor.

Sinus pressure

When you have had a cold you would have probably felt the feeling of sinus pressure. When you have a nasal infection, it can cause swelling in the sinus cavities near your ear canal and in the Eustachian tubes which put pressure on your eardrum. While this can be very painful, it can also lead to temporary hearing loss. However, it is usually only a temporary problem and your hearing will soon be back to normal. If you do experience a sudden loss of hearing or severe pain alongside the congestion, then it’s a good idea to see your doctor.

Damage caused by exposure to noise

For many people, it’s not uncommon to come out of a noisy nightclub or a loud concert with a ringing sound (tinnitus) in their ears or their hearing feeling muffled. This can happen when you are exposed to very loud noise and normally passes within 48 hours. However, prolonged exposure can permanently damage your hearing and cause noise-induced hearing loss. You can protect your ears by avoiding listening to loud music through earbuds, wear protective hearing devices in noisy environments or just make sure you take the occasional break away from the noise.

Covid-19 and blocked ears

Covid-19 can cause blocked ears along with various respiratory issues, leading to inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages and Eustachian tube. This congestion may cause a sensation of fullness or blockage in the ears. Moreover, Covid-19 can occasionally trigger secondary infections like sinusitis or otitis media, exacerbating ear blockage. Seeking medical advice for persistent or severe symptoms, including ear blockage, after recovering from Covid-19 is crucial. Appropriate treatment may be needed to relieve discomfort and prevent complications.

While most of the time the feeling that your ears are clogged will pass and you’ll soon forget about it. However, if the sensation persists schedule a consultation with a hearing care professional or your doctor.

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