Your ears can feel congested due to sinus congestion, altitude changes, middle ear issues, wax buildup, and more. If you also experience pain, balance problems, or hearing loss, a doctor can help diagnose the underlying cause.

Ear congestion occurs when your eustachian tube becomes obstructed or is not functioning properly.

The eustachian tube is a small canal that runs between your nose and your middle ear. It helps equalize the pressure in your middle ear.

When the eustachian tube becomes clogged, you feel fullness and pressure in your ear. You might also experience muffled hearing and ear pain. Symptoms can also stem from problems in your middle ear or the ear canal.

Read on to learn more about what could be causing your ear congestion and how to find relief.

To treat ear congestion, you first need to identify the cause. The following are some possible causes of ear congestion and their treatments.

Sinus-related issues

Any condition that causes sinus congestion can also cause ear congestion. This includes:

Here are things you can do to relieve sinus congestion and related ear congestion:

  • Take a nasal decongestant for up to 3 days
  • Blow your nose gently
  • Use a nasal rinse or nasal irrigation system
  • Use a humidifier, as dry air can irritate your nasal passages
  • Avoid tobacco smoke and other irritants
  • Drink lots of water, especially in the evening, to thin your nasal mucus

Fluid buildup

Getting water in your ear while showering or swimming can cause ear congestion. Try the following to get water out of your ear:

  • Jiggle or tug on your ear lobe with your ear tilted toward your shoulder.
  • Lie on your side with the plugged ear facing downward.
  • Lie on your side and apply a hot compress for 30 seconds, remove for a minute, then repeat four or five times.

Wax buildup

Your glands produce earwax to moisturize and protect your skin. It doesn’t usually need to be removed from your ears unless it’s causing symptoms.

Here are ways to remove wax buildup from your ears:

  • Soften earwax by placing a few drops of olive or mineral oil in your ear.
  • Use over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops or an earwax removal kit.
  • Use an ear syringe with lukewarm water or a saline solution.


Allergies can cause ear congestion when mucus backs up and gets trapped in your eustachian tube or middle ear.

Taking allergy medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants, can relieve ear congestion and other symptoms. Nasal sprays containing steroids, antihistamines, or both may also help.


The rapid changes in air pressure during air travel, especially during takeoff and landing, stress your middle ear and eardrum.

You can avoid or relieve airplane ear congestion by chewing gum or hard candy, swallowing, or yawning during takeoff and landing.

You can also try:

  • The Valsalva maneuver entails gently blowing your nose with your mouth closed while pinching your nostrils. Repeat as needed.
  • Wearing filtered earplugs during takeoff and landing helps to equalize the pressure slowly.
  • Use an OTC nasal decongestant spray 30 minutes before takeoff and landing.

Ear canal blockage

If you suspect that there is a foreign object inside your ear canal, do not try to remove it yourself. Go to the nearest emergency department or urgent care center.

Middle and external ear infections

A middle ear infection can cause ear congestion, as well as dizziness, ear pain, and occasionally fluid drainage. They’re usually caused by colds or other respiratory problems that travel to the middle ear through the eustachian tube.

External ear infections, also known as swimmer’s ear, are usually caused by water that remains in your ear after swimming or bathing, providing an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. You may experience pain, itching, redness, clear fluid drainage, or a discharge of pus.

Ear infections often resolve without treatment. OTC ear drops and pain medication can help relieve your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe or last more than two days, a healthcare professional may prescribe antibiotics.

Persistent or severe congestion could be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.

Meniere’s disease

This is an inner ear disorder that causes severe dizziness and hearing loss. It’s more common in people 40–60 years old.

The cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown, but the symptoms are caused by fluid buildup in the labyrinths, which are compartments of the inner ear.


A cholesteatoma is an abnormal growth that develops in the middle ear due to poor eustachian tube function or a middle ear infection.

Acoustic neuroma

This is a slow-growing, noncancerous tumor on the nerve that leads from your inner ear to your brain. Symptoms may include ringing in the ears (tinnitus), dizziness, and balance problems.

Fungal infection of the external ear

Fungal ear infections are more common in people who swim often, live in tropical climates, or have diabetes or chronic skin conditions.

Along with ear congestion, fungal ear infections can cause ear ringing, swelling, pain, itching, and hearing problems.

Serous otitis media

Also known as fluid in the ears, this affects the middle ear and involves a buildup of clear (serous) fluid. It can affect hearing. It can occur after an ear infection or a cold.

Afflictions of the temporomandibular joints (TMJ)

The TMJ or jaw joints run along the sides of your jaw and allow you to open and close your mouth.

TMJ disorders can cause symptoms that can be felt in the ears. These usually result from your jaw being out of alignment due to an injury, arthritis, or chronic teeth grinding.

Make an appointment with a healthcare professional if your ear congestion lasts more than two weeks or is accompanied by:

  • fever
  • fluid drainage
  • hearing loss
  • balance problems
  • severe ear pain

What can you do to decongest your ears naturally?

Gently blowing through your nose while pinching your nostrils and keeping your mouth closed can help equalize the pressure in your ears and relieve congestion.

Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water or taking a hot shower can help loosen mucus. Applying a warm, damp washcloth to the affected ear can help soothe discomfort and promote drainage.

How do you get sinus fluid out of your ear?

Oral or nasal decongestants can help reduce swelling in the nasal passages, which can aid in draining fluid from the ears. You can also use a neti pot to rinse your nasal passages.

How long do congested ears last?

Congested ears caused by the common cold or allergies may resolve within a few days to a week as the underlying condition improves.

However, if the congestion is due to a more persistent issue such as chronic sinusitis, Eustachian tube dysfunction, or an ear infection, it may last longer and require specific treatment.

What is ear congestion a symptom of?

Ear congestion is often related to allergies, sinusitis, the common cold, and other acute conditions.

Other factors such as smoking, environmental pollutants, and anatomical issues with the ear or Eustachian tube can also contribute to ear congestion.

The outlook and treatment for ear congestion will depend on the cause, but it is usually possible to treat it using home remedies or OTC treatments.

However, some infections and conditions, such as Meniere’s disease, may need medical treatment.