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Clogging of the ears occurs due to blockage or plugging in the Eustachian tube. This tube connects the throat and the middle ear.
During sneezing, swallowing, or yawning, the Eustachian tube opens to prevent pressure buildup in the ear. At times, due to dysfunction of the tube fluid or pressure may build up, causing discomfort.
Home Remedies for Clogged Ears
These methods may help unclog your ears and relieve the associated discomfort.
1. Do the Valsalva maneuver
The Valsalva maneuver is a breathing technique that, if performed correctly, may help equalize the air pressure in the middle ear.
How to do the Valsalva maneuver:
- Draw in a deep breath and close your mouth. Close your nostrils as well by pinching them with your fingers.
- Try to expel the air out against the resistance of the closed mouth and blocked nose. You can tell that the technique has worked when you hear a slight popping sound, which means the Eustachian tube has opened.
- You may repeat this as often as necessary until the ear fullness resolves completely; if you do this a few times and get no relief, the problem may not be due to a change in the function of the Eustachian tube.
Note: Do not exert too much pressure while blowing your nose, as it can end up puncturing or damaging your eardrum.
The benefits of practicing the Valsalva maneuver to get relief from clogged ears are substantiated by considerable research-based evidence.
2. Practice steam inhalation
Steam inhalation helps open up any blockages within your ear, without any undue complications or side effects.
The steam helps to dilute the respiratory mucus and makes draining it out easy. This, in turn, helps open up the blocked Eustachian tube and relieves the associated discomforts.
How to do steam inhalation:
- Hold your face over a bowl of hot steaming water infused with a few drops of tea tree oil or lavender essential oil.
- Cover your head with a towel to prevent the steam from escaping.
- Slowly breathe in the therapeutic steam.
3. Take a warm shower
Another simple way to benefit from heat therapy is to spend 10 minutes in a warm shower now and again to inhale the steam slowly until the clogged ear opens up.
4. Apply a warm compress (warm washcloth)
Applying a warm compress on the clogged ear may help dissolve the impacted earwax so that it becomes more mobile and easier to drain out of the ear cavity. This kind of heat therapy is especially recommended when the blockage in your ear occurs due to a common cold infection or sinus congestion.
You can use a washcloth drenched in warm water for this purpose, but only after wringing the excess water out. Alternatively, you can use a hot water bottle to make a warm compress and apply it to the affected ear for 5–10 minutes.
5. Use warm olive oil to soften earwax
Olive oil may help water down the consolidated earwax and make it easier to expel. It is a mild fluid that is unlikely to trigger any adverse side effects or irritate the delicate lining of your inner ear. (3)(4)
You can also use mineral oil for this purpose.
Note: Do not use this method if you have a perforated eardrum. Also, make sure that the oil is comfortably warm and not so hot that it ends up burning the delicate inner lining of your ear.
6. Yawn to release the pressure within your ear
The Eustachian tube normally remains closed, but when you yawn or swallow, the paratubal muscles stretch it open briefly, thereby improving the pressure equalization in the middle ear.
It is when the ear tube ceases to open intermittently in this manner that the sensation of ear fullness, popping or crackling sounds, and ear discomfort or pain usually set in. (5)
7. Swallow to help open up your clogged ears
If your clogged ears are due to a sudden change in air pressure, like what happens during an airplane landing, suck on some sugar-free lozenges or chew sugarless gum.
This stimulates saliva production and increases how often you swallow. As you swallow more, the Eustachian tubes open more frequently and may relieve the excess pressure in your ears.
8. Try the ear irrigation method
Flushing your blocked ear with comfortably warm water may help soften the impacted earwax and facilitate its speedy drainage.
You are advised to use a large syringe that can hold 20 mL of warm sterile water to gently irrigate the ear canal. (6) Sterile or saline water is preferred over tap water to minimize the risk of infection. If you must use tap water, boil it first and then let it cool before use.
Caution: Young children, as well as those who are not well versed with the technique of ear irrigation, are strictly advised against performing this type of self-treatment.
Note: Stop the process immediately if you experience any pain or bleeding. If you use the syringe a few times and do not get relief, a professional examination of your ear is necessary.
Ear irrigation may serve as a convenient, cost-effective, and time-saving intervention for earwax removal. You can perform it at home, provided you follow the right technique and proper precautions as directed by the ENT.
Preventive Self-Care Measures
One of the most common mistakes that people make with regard to ear cleaning is the excessive use of penetrative tools such as Q-tips or ear picks.
These tools only push the wax deeper into the ear canal, worsening the condition. On top of that, inserting an unsterilized object into the ear can cause infections.
The ears are usually self-cleaning and need no help in getting the wax out. If, however, you do need a bit of added help, do the minimally invasive methods listed below rather than the standard ear-cleaning tools:
- Given that your ear canal is extremely sensitive, it is generally advised to limit your ear cleaning efforts to the outer ear only.
- Always use a light touch when cleaning your ears to avoid damage.
- Digging your fingers into the ear or using sharp, invasive items such as bobby pins and keys can cause ear damage and hearing loss. It is best to avoid such risky practices.
- Excessive use of over-the-counter earwax removal drops to unclog your ears can actually backfire and make your problems worse.
- People who work in highly polluted environments should consider wearing earplugs to avoid the dust, grime, and other atmospheric impurities from settling into their ears and clogging them.
- If you are in the middle of a common cold or sinus infection, drink plenty of fluids. This will help thin out the nasal secretions and facilitate their easy drainage. Moreover, it is best to limit your intake of caffeine, salt, and alcohol and avoid smoking/vaping as these can adversely affect your blood circulation and worsen the nasal and ear congestion.
Most-Asked Questions About Clogged Ears
Is candling safe?
Candling, a new-age tool marketed for earwax removal and unclogging ears, is considered to be unsafe. This method involves inserting a lit, cone-shaped, and hollow candle into the ear to create a suction, which helps pull out the wax.
Using an ignited candle to clean your ears can be quite dangerous, as evidenced by the many burning accidents and injuries reported among those who have tried this method.
Candling can even end up perforating your eardrum. Thus, this method is strictly and unanimously prohibited by ear specialists.
Can hydrogen peroxide be used for unclogging ears?
The use of hydrogen peroxide for unclogging wax buildup in ears is an anecdotal practice lacking any scientific evidence. Hydrogen peroxide, even in diluted forms, can potentially rupture the eardrum.
You may consult your doctor for carbamide peroxide ear drops instead for clearing your ears. Use this prescription medication as indicated. Avoid its usage if you have any infection, injury, or impaired eardrum.
Can rubbing alcohol help unclog ears?
Rubbing alcohol is generally used to dry up the ears since retained water can cause infections such as swimmer’s ears.
While rubbing alcohol with vinegar has been anecdotally used for treating clogged ears, there have been only preliminary studies regarding it. (7)
Therefore, it is best to avoid this remedy to prevent complications. Consult your doctor and get a proper diagnosis. You may use OTC products that contain alcohol on your doctor’s suggestion.
How to manage ear clogging due to ear pressure while traveling by plane?
The feeling of pressure buildup in the ear during air traveling is known as barotrauma. You can use oral or nasal decongestants to help prevent this.
These medications help by shrinking the mucous membrane of the Eustachian tube. Alternatively, you can also try the Valsalva, Frenzel, or Toynbee maneuver.
Blockage in the Eustachian tube can result in pain, pressure, and hearing loss. Generally, the problem resolves on its own. However, in some cases, treatment may be required to help reduce the swelling.
Various home remedies can help unclog the ears. However, if the problem is persistent, it is best to consult a doctor.