5 Reasons Your Ears Feel Clogged

Most people will have, at some point, experienced that strange sensation of everything sounding muffled. Clogged ears can happen to anyone and while it can often just be a strange and mildly uncomfortable sensation for most people, clogged ears can affect hearing and your balance, and be very painful.

If your ears are feeling clogged but there is no obvious sign of anything blocking your ear canals, what could be causing it?

There five most common reasons for clogged ears are:

  1. Changes in altitude
  2. Fluid in the ear
  3. Impacted earwax
  4. Noise damage
  5. Sinus pressure

1. Changes in altitude

If you are someone who flies relatively frequently, you may be familiar with the feeling of clogged ears. When a plane takes off there’s a sudden change in altitude. This means the air pressure in your body will be different from the air pressure outside of your body. This creates the feeling of pressure in your ear. Something as simple as swallowing or yawning can be enough to open the Eustachian tubes that connect the ear to the throat and equalize the air pressure so your ears unclog. Some people choose to chew gum during their flight as it helps you to swallow often and avoid your ears getting blocked.

2. Fluid in the ear

People who swim regularly will likely be quite familiar with this sometimes painful condition. After all, it’s often referred to as swimmer’s ear. But fluid in the ear can affect anyone – even non-swimmers. Fluid can develop in the external ear canal after swimming, bathing or even just being in a moist environment. The fluid will usually drain within a day. But if your symptoms continue, or you have discharge or severe pain in your ear, then you should schedule a consultation with a hearing care professional or your doctor. It could be that you have an external ear infection.

If you think you have fluid in the ear, there are some techniques you can try to encourage the fluid to drain:

  1. Tilt your head to one side and gently pull on your earlobe
  2. Chew, yawn, take a deep breath or move your jaw to encourage the fluid out of your ear
  3. Use a warm compress to open up the Eustachian tubes to help the water drain naturally

3. Impacted ear wax

Earwax is usually the body’s way of protecting and cleaning the ear. But if it builds-up it can become impacted and affect your hearing. Impacted earwax is the most common cause of temporary hearing loss. Impacted earwax can have the following symptoms:

  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Earache
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Hearing loss
  • Coughing
  • Itching
  • Odour or discharge from the ears

While it is possible to buy or even make your own remedy to drain excess earwax, if you aren’t careful you could risk injuring your ear, causing an ear infection or even permanent hearing loss. The safest and most effective way to clear impacted earwax is having it treated by your doctor or hearing care professional.

4. Noise damage

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common types of sensorineural hearing loss. If your ears have ever feel clogged or experienced ringing in your ears (tinnitus) after you leave a loud environment such as a rock concert, nightclub or loud workplace it is likely due to exposure to loud noise. Listening to loud music through earbuds can also exposure your ears to damaging levels. While these symptoms will generally clear within 48 hours, prolonged exposure can permanently damage your hearing. You can prevent permanent noise-induced hearing loss by taking certain precautions the next time you are in a noisy environment such as wearing protective hearing devices or simply taking breaks from the noise exposure.

5. Sinus pressure

Most people are familiar with the feeling of sinus pressure when they have a cold. A nasal infection can create swelling in the sinus cavities next to your ear canal. This causes the Eustachian tubes to swell and place pressure on the eardrum. This is not just painful but can also cause temporary hearing loss. Fortunately, hearing loss that’s caused by a sinus pressure is usually only temporary and your hearing will return to normal. However, if you do experience pain or a sudden loss of hearing due to the congestion, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor.

If the clogged sensation in your ears persists or you experience sudden hearing loss or pain, you should speak to your doctor. Don’t attempt to tackle your clogged ears yourself with a cotton swab as you could cause serious damage to your ears and your hearing.

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