5 Reasons Your Ears Feel Clogged

Does it feel like there’s cotton wool in your ears and everything sounds muffled? Even though there might be not be anything you can see in your ear canal, it could be that your ears are clogged. Most people have experienced clogged ears and while the effects are often temporary, it can affect your hearing and be very painful.

If your ears are feeling clogged, it could be due to one of these five common causes:

  • Fluid in the ear
  • Changes in altitude
  • Build-up of earwax
  • Sinus pressure
  • Noise damage

Fluid in the ear

More commonly known as swimmer’s ear, fluid in the ear doesn’t just affect avid swimmers – it can affect anyone. It can sometimes be a painful condition and often occurs when the fluid has got trapped in the external ear canal when you’ve been swimming or even had a bath.

Fluid can also develop in your ear if you have spent some time in a moist environment. The fluid should draft within 24 hours, but if you have discharge, severe ear pain or the clogged sensation persists, you should schedule a consultation with a hearing care professional or your doctor. It could be that you have an ear infection and need treatment.

If you think you may have fluid trapped in your ear that’s causing a clogged sensation, there are some things you can do to help drain the fluid out of your ear:

  • Take a deep breath, yawn or chew to move your jaw and encourage the fluid out
  • A warm compress on your ear can help to open up the Eustachian tubes
  • Tilt your head sideways and pull on your earlobe gently

A change in altitude

Anyone who flies regularly will likely have experienced the sensation of clogged ears. This happens when there is a sudden change in altitude such as when a plane takes off. The air pressure will suddenly become different outside the ear to the air pressure inside the ear. This creates a pressure sensation in the ear. It can be resolved relatively easily with some yawning or swallowing. This action will open the Eustachian tube that links the ear to the throat and help to equalise the air pressure so your ears can unclog. To avoid their ears getting blocked during a flight, some people chew gum on the plane as it makes you swallow regularly.

A build-up of earwax

Your body uses earwax to protect and clean the ear. However, if it builds up it can become impacted and cause your ears to feel clogged. Impacted earwax can affect your hearing and the most common reason for someone to experience a temporary hearing loss. You may have a build-up of excess earwax in your ear if you experience:

  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus (or ringing in the ears)
  • Your ears feel plugged or full
  • Earache
  • Persistent coughing
  • Ears feel itchy
  • Discharge or odour from the ears

There are over-the-counter remedies that will drain your excess earwax. However, there is a risk that you could cause damage to your ear, cause ear infections or even permanent loss of hearing. The most effective and safest way to clear an impacted ear is asking your doctor or hearing care professional to treat the problem for you.

Sinus pressure

You probably experienced sinus pressure the last time you had a cold. It’s fairly common for a nasal infection to cause swelling in the sinus cavities which are next to your ear canal. This causes swelling in the Eustachian tubes and puts pressure on your eardrum. While this can be painful, it can also lead to temporary hearing loss. However, if you experience hearing loss because of sinus pressure you should find that it is only a temporary problem and your hearing goes back to normal quite soon. If you experience severe pain or sudden hearing loss, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.

Noise damage

Have your ears ever felt clogged after you leave a loud music concert or nightclub? Perhaps you noticed a strange ringing sound in your ears or that your hearing felt muffled. Noise-induced hearing loss is a common type of sensorineural hearing loss and in most cases, the effects are only temporary and should go within 48 hours.

You can avoid permanently damaging your ears and developing noise-induced hearing loss by taking some precautions when you know that you will be in a noisy environment. For instance, taking occasional breaks from the loud noise or wearing protective hearing devices.

If the clogged feeling in your ears doesn’t go away after some time or you experience severe pain or a sudden hearing loss, then you should seek advice from your doctor. Don’t try to deal with your clogged ears yourself as you could cause further problems to your ears. It may be that the problem isn’t related to clogged ears and needs further investigation.

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