Just like people often have stuffy noses, they can also have stuffy ears for a variety of reasons. Clogged ears can crop up because of:
- too much earwax in the Eustachian tube
- water in your ear
- a change in altitude (you may have noticed problems when you fly)
- sinus infections
- middle ear infections
Children and adults get stuffy ears. Kids may get them a bit more, especially when they have colds.
There are a lot of different ways to tackle the problem of clogged up ears. Some involve medications, but others you can do with things you likely already have at home. In some specific cases, you may need to check with a doctor about getting a prescription.
Here are some tips for unclogging your ears. Many of these methods soften the earwax and simply allow it to run out.
The Valsalva maneuver is better known as “popping your ears.” An easy way to do this is to plug your nose and then blow out while keeping your lips closed (it will puff up your cheeks). It’s important not to blow your nose too hard, which could cause problems with your eardrum.
Try dripping mineral, olive, or baby oil into your clogged ear. Warm two to three tablespoons of your oil of choice, but be careful not to make it too hot. Check it on your hand or wrist to make sure it’s a safe temperature and doesn’t irritate your skin. Then, use an eyedropper to put one to two drops in your ear. Keep your head tilted for 10 to 15 seconds. Do this a couple times daily for up to five days until the blockage seems to be better.
Hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide otic
Hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide otic can also be dripped into your ear. Combine the peroxide with warm water in a bowl first. Then, follow the steps to apply it as you would for the oil above. You’ll likely experience some fizzing — let it do this and keep your head at an angle until it stops.
Over-the-counter ear drops
You can pick up ear drops at your local pharmacy. Use as directed on the packaging.
Nasal spray or oral decongestants
Nasal sprays and oral decongestants can be especially useful when flying. They’re often more effective as a preventative treatment. These are available over the counter.
Irrigating your ear may help after you’ve made some headway with the blockage. It can be done at home. When the earwax is softened, irrigation can help flush it out. For more information, read about ear irrigation.
Warm compress or steam
Try placing a warm compress over your ear, or try taking a hot shower. A shower can help get steam into your ear canal. Just make sure to stay in for at least 5 to 10 minutes.
It’s important to remember that the ear is an extremely sensitive part of the body. Most ear, nose, and throat professionals don’t typically instruct patients to clean their ears regularly.
If you do, it’s important to be careful and to use a light touch. Sticking a cotton swab and swirling it around every night may seem like a good way to treat or prevent earwax buildup, but it can cause problems for this delicate part of the body. When you do clean your ear, make sure that you use a light touch. When washing the ear, just use a warm, wet cloth on the outside portion.
There are many ways to treat issues of clogged ears at home, but sometimes seeing a medical professional can help speed up the recovery process, or at least more effectively kick start it. For example, both sinus infections and middle ear infections benefit greatly from a prescription. When thinking about whether or not to see a doctor, consider your other symptoms.
If you have any of the following, contact a physician:
- hearing loss
- ear pain
- ringing sound
These things don’t necessarily mean that something is seriously wrong. They may just point your doctor to a specific course of action.
The good news is that a clogged ear, while uncomfortable, is usually pretty easy to handle on your own. Some cases may call for a bit of medical intervention.
A clogged ear can be distracting and annoying, so wanting it to go away as fast as possible is understandable. How long it takes to go away can vary depending on what the root cause is and how quickly you decide to treat it.
Ears that are clogged from water or air pressure may be resolved quickly. Infections and earwax buildup can take up to a week to clear up. In some circumstances, especially with a sinus infection that you’re having a hard time shaking, it can take longer than a week. Getting effective treatment will help speed up your recovery time.
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