Most people experience the feeling of temporarily clogged ears after being on a plane or going swimming (swimmer’s ear). This sensation tends to disappear quickly.
However, it isn’t normal for ears to feel clogged or ringing (tinnitus) for more extended periods. The causes for ear problems can vary, so first, let’s look at four of the most common reasons for clogged ears.
1. Impacted Earwax
Earwax is a sticky substance that acts as a lubricant and also traps dirt and other pollutants. When it naturally falls out of the ear canal, earwax also behaves as a cleaning agent. However, occasionally, earwax becomes impacted and hard, affecting the ability to hear well and possibly causing cognitive or balance issues.
Attempting to dislodge impacted wax at home could push it deeper into the ear canal and even cause a ruptured eardrum. A doctor will have a special earwax cleaning kit to flush the clogged ears safely.
2. Fluid in the Ear
The Eustachian tube connects the throat and the middle ear. Normally, fluid and mucus travel from the middle ear to the back of the throat, where they are automatically swallowed.
A blockage can occur due to the common cold, flu, sinusitis, or allergic rhinitis. When this happens, fluid and mucus remain in the middle ear, causing a clogging sensation and possibly leading to an ear infection which will require antibiotics to treat.
3. Sinus Pressure
The sinus cavities are hollow spaces located in the bones near the nose, between the eyes, and beside the ear canal. Inflammation in these cavities due to an infection or allergies may cause the eustachian tube to swell.
This closes off the connection between the throat and the middle ear, putting pressure on the eardrum and causing a clogged ear feeling or even pain and hearing loss.
Hearing loss caused by sinus pressure is usually temporary. However, if pain is experienced, a doctor can prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms.
4. Noise Damage
Around 40 million Americans have hearing issues in one or both ears because of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This condition can result from exposure to excessive noise over a long period or just a one-time exposure to a deafening noise, such as an explosion.
Permanent hearing loss can be prevented by taking precautions such as not listening to music through earbuds at a high volume and wearing earplugs or other protective devices.
Less Common Causes for Clogged Ears
Anxiety – People under a lot of stress may experience ear pressure and pain. The inner ear is highly sensitive to changes in blood and fluid supply. A racing heart, a rise in blood pressure, or elevated stress hormones can affect the ears.
Balance Disorders and Meniere’s Disease – People with an inner ear condition, such as Meniere’s, may experience a feeling of “ear fullness” caused by an imbalance of ear fluids in the inner ear. If this symptom is accompanied by hearing loss, dizziness, or ringing in the ears, medical help should be sought.
Seeking Help for Clogged Ears
Trying to fix clogged ears yourself using a cotton swab or an ear candle is never a good idea. Instead, be sure to seek the advice of a hearing healthcare professional whenever you are having trouble hearing.