We’ve all felt it before – that uncomfortable, muffled sensation of having clogged ears. While we sometimes purposely try to plug our ears, whether in the form of earplug or our fingers, we sometimes suffer from this horrible feeling out of the blue.
It turns out that there are quite a few reasons why your ears might feel clogged and many of these underlying problems can be easily treated to restore your hearing back to normal. Let’s take a look at what might be causing your clogged ears and discuss what your options are moving forward.
Oh, the trials and tribulations of earwax buildup. While earwax is actually one of the body’s defense mechanisms for the ear, it can cause a variety of problems for people who have too much of it.
Earwax functions by trapping dirt and other pollutants so they can’t enter the sensitive parts of the middle and inner ear. It also acts as a bit of a lubricant and helps to clean the ear. However, it can, albeit infrequently become impacted inside the ear canal and negatively affect one’s ability to hear.
Impacted earwax can cause a number of signs and symptoms, including:
- Hearing loss
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
- Odor or discharge
Perhaps the most common symptom, however, is a feeling of clogged ears. Diagnosis and treatment are best done by a hearing healthcare professional who can safely and efficiently remove the earwax. Contrary to popular belief, is never a good idea to try to remove the earwax yourself using a cotton swab or any other implement, as you can accidentally puncture an eardrum or push the earwax even deeper into your ear canal.
Swimmers are generally well aware of the pain and annoyance associated with fluid in the ear, but it’s important to note that this can afflict non-swimmers, too. Generally, fluid buildup in the ear occurs for one of two reasons: swimming/bathing or ear infection.
Fluid can build up in the ear after an extended period of bathing, swimming, or time in a moist environment. If water gets trapped in your ear, try these techniques to get it to drain:
- Tilting your head sideways and pulling gently on your ear
- Apply a warm compress to your ear to encourage the tubes inside to drain
- Yawn, chew gum, take deep breaths, or hold your nose and blow gently
If your fluid build-up is due to an ear infection, you might need to contact a hearing healthcare provider. Ear infections are most common amongst children but can afflict people of any age. Fluid buildup behind the eardrum can cause the dreaded plugged ear feeling during an ear infection. While this can drain on its own, for younger children and infants, it’s best to seek help from a hearing healthcare professional.
Anyone who’s ever had a bad cold or sinus infection is familiar with the feeling of sinus pressure. That uncomfortable buildup behind your nose and eyes is due to an inflammation of the sinus cavities in your face. Unbeknownst to most, however, this inflammation can also cause the Eustachian tubes in your ears to swell, closing off the connection between the middle ear and throat, and causing the clogged ear feeling, pain, and even hearing loss.
Luckily for us, this type of hearing loss, pain, and discomfort generally go away on its own once the congestion clears. That being said, if you experience this condition, you can talk with your healthcare provider who can prescribe medications to alleviate your discomfort.
Exposure to excessive noise can also cause that clogged feeling in your ears. Particularly after an evening at the club, or after a sporting event at a loud stadium, that clogged feeling is likely due to loud sounds, These symptoms will often go away within 48 hours of exposure, but it’s important to note that you might be causing permanent damage to your hearing in the long term.
To prevent long-term damage to your hearing, consider the following:
- Wear earplugs when in loud environments. Custom molded earplugs are available from your hearing healthcare provider and offer better noise protection and quality than the store-bought foam versions.
- Turn down the volume on your music in the car or your headphones and turn down the volume on your TV.
- Move as far away from loud noises as possible if you can’t turn down the volume or put in earplugs.