Are you suffering from blocked ears two days before your favorite concert? We feel your pain.
While generally not a serious condition, blocked ears can be a nuisance in a league of their own. Normal hearing woes aside, sometimes you can’t even enjoy music wearing earphones if your ears are clogged.
When the Eustachian tube in your ear is unable to equalize the pressure between the middle ear and atmospheric pressure for some reason, you end up with the feeling of fullness in your ear. But before you gear up to unclog your ears, it’s important to know the how’s and why’s of this condition.
- Causes of Clogged Ears
- Symptoms of Clogged Ears
- Home Treatment for Clogged Ears
- Method 1: Valsalva Maneuver
- Method 2: Swallowing
- Method 3: Yawning
- Method 4: Olive Oil
- Method 5: Garlic
- Method 6: Steam Treatment with Essential Oils
- Method 7: Heat
- Method 8: Hydrogen Peroxide
- Tips to keep in mind
Causes of Clogged Ears
Ears can become clogged or blocked for several reasons, including:
- A drastic change in altitude, such as during an airplane takeoff, driving up a canyon or hilly area, or when diving.
- Wax buildup in the outer ear.
- An ear infection.
- A cold, fever and stuffy sinuses.
- Water entering the ear canal during bathing or swimming.
People of all ages can experience clogged ears, but children may have to deal with ear blockage more often because they are more prone to colds and ear infections. Frequent travelers, divers, and swimmers are also more likely to have blocked ears frequently.
Symptoms of Clogged Ears
The symptoms can vary depending on the cause of the clogged ears. They may include:
- A feeling of fullness in the ear.
- Muffled hearing or temporary loss in hearing.
- Popping, ringing and whistling sensations in the ear.
- Discharge due to an infection.
- Loss of balance.
- An earache.
Home Treatment for Clogged Ears
Blocked ears are usually harmless and accompanied by benign symptoms. As such, they can be easily taken care of by natural remedies administered at home.
Here are eight natural remedies to help you unclog your ears whenever you have a blockage.
Method 1: Valsalva Maneuver
Developed by Antonia Maria Valsalva, the Valsalva maneuver is one of the most effective ways to get rid of a variety of ear congestions. You can easily equalize the pressure in your middle-ear using this technique. (1)
- Take a deep breath and close your mouth.
- Pinch your nose between your thumb and fingers and tilt your head slightly backward.
- Gently blow through your nose to equalize your ears. You should hear a ‘pop’ sound.
The Valsalva maneuver typically gives instant results. But if your ears still feel blocked, wait for a few minutes before trying it again.
Method 2: Swallowing
Have you ever noticed the faint ‘pop’ or ‘click’ each time you engage in empty swallowing? That’s the sound of your Eustachian tubes equalizing.
Conscious swallowing is another technique to unclog ears. The muscle movement during the swallowing action helps pull the Eustachian tubes open. (2) This allows air to move into the Eustachian tubes and equalize the air pressure.
Similarly, chewing gum can help equalize pressure in your ears and relieve the feeling of plugged ears.
Method 3: Yawning
Yawning also helps equalize air pressure in the ears, in a manner quite similar to swallowing. In fact, yawning is described as simultaneous air intake and stretching of the eardrums. If your ears feel plugged, this is what you can do.
- Open your mouth as wide as you can and yawn. Go ‘aaaaah’ until you hear the popping sound of your Eustachian tubes. (3)
- To further aid the process, pull on the earlobe of the affected ear.
Method 4: Olive Oil
Warm olive oil is a simple home remedy to clear out clogged ears. It can help drain out the fluids or earwax responsible for the congestion as well as treat minor ear infections. (4) It can also help with ear congestion due to a pressure imbalance.
Note: Hot oil can damage the ear canal, so always test the temperature of the oil before administering it.
Single-Step Treatment: Unclog your ears with warm olive oil
- Warm some olive oil in a microwave. You can also use a hot water bath to warm the olive oil.
- Lay your head down on your side with the clogged ear facing up. Put a few drops of warm olive oil into the ear with a dropper.
- Hold the position for about 10 minutes to allow the olive oil to unclog your ears.
- Plug the outer ear with a sterile cotton ball and turn over on your other side to let the oil drain out.
- Repeat with the other ear, if needed.
This remedy should give immediate results if the blockage stems from earwax buildup. If you’re treating a blockage due to an ear infection, it may take a few days to clear up completely.
Method 5: Garlic
Garlic’s antibiotic properties help treat infections like swimmer’s ear that often cause clogged ears. (4) It also provides relief from any pain that may be present. The best way to use garlic to clear up ear congestion is to infuse it into olive oil.
Things you’ll need:
- Garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (antibiotic and analgesic) – 2
- Olive oil (clears up ear congestion) – 2 tablespoons
Step 1. Heat the olive oil and garlic together
- Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a microwave-safe bowl.
- Add in 2 cloves of peeled and chopped garlic. Instead of chopping, you can also just smash the cloves.
- Pop the bowl into the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.
Step 2. Unclog your ears with warm garlic oil
- Remove the oil from the microwave and allow it to cool down to a bearable temperature.
- Administer a few drops of the warm garlic oil into the affected ear with a sterile dropper as described in Method 4.
While this remedy provides instant relief if your ears are simply plugged with earwax, it may take a few days to get relief from an ear infection.
Method 6: Steam Treatment with Essential Oils
If your ears are plugged due to sinus congestion or a cold, you can unclog them using a steam treatment. Steam helps thin out the mucus, which eases the pressure in the ear canals. A steam treatment also helps loosen earwax that might be clogging your ears. (5)
Adding essential oils will help relieve any pain or infection associated with ear congestion.
Things you’ll need:
- Boiling water – 2 cups
- Lavender essential oil (antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties) – 3 or 4 drops
- Peppermint essential oil (antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties) – 3 or 4 drops
- Tea tree essential oil (antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties) – 3 or 4 drops
Step 1. Combine the ingredients in a bowl
- Pour 2 cups of boiling water into a bowl. The water needs to be steaming.
- Add 3 or 4 drops each of lavender, peppermint and tea tree essential oils to the water.
Step 2. Inhale the steam to get rid of ear congestion
- Cover your head with a towel, making a tent. Be sure not to cover your ears.
- Close your eyes to keep the steam from getting into your eyes, and inhale the steam through your nose to clear the congestion.
Repeat twice a day for 1 or 2 days to clear up your clogged ears.
Method 7: Heat
If you happen to get water inside your ears after taking a shower, a bath or a swim, you can unclog your ears using heat treatment. Heat works by evaporating the water in your ear canal.
Using a hair dryer is a convenient way of applying heat to clear ear congestion. Another way to do this is by using a hot compress.
Single-Step Treatment: Blow warm air into your ears to unclog them
- Set the hair dryer to the warm or medium heat setting and direct the warm air into the affected ear. (6)
- Pull on your earlobe to open the ear canals and aid the drying process.
- Do this for about 5 minutes or less at a time. If the ear remains unclogged, take a 5-minute break and have another go at it.
Method 8: Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide can also be safely used to unclog ears. It is a very popular remedy for dissolving earwax but also works well to help drain any fluid collected in the Eustachian tubes. (7) Use 3% hydrogen peroxide and dilute it to keep it from drying out your ears.
Step 1. Dilute hydrogen peroxide
- Pour some distilled water into a clean bowl.
- Pour in an equal amount of 3% hydrogen peroxide.
Step 2. Use the diluted hydrogen peroxide to unclog your ears
- Lay your head to the side, with the affected ear facing up.
- Put a few drops of the diluted hydrogen peroxide into the ear with a sterile dropper.
- Let it sit for about 30 seconds before turning your head to the other side and draining your ear.
Repeat the remedy twice a day to unclog your ears. If any blockage remains, repeat the remedy the next day as well.
Tips to keep in mind
- Avoid exhaling forcefully while doing the Valsalva maneuver.
- If the ear feels too dry after using the hydrogen peroxide remedy, add a few drops of glycerin to the mixture.
- Phillips RE. Ear. The Physical Exam. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-63847-8_13. Published November 9, 2017.
- Luukkainen V, Vnencak M, Aarnisalo AA, Jero J, Sinkkonen ST. Patient satisfaction in the long-term effects of Eustachian tube balloon dilation is encouraging. Acta Oto-Laryngologica. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29017385. Published February 2018.
- Poe D. Evaluation of Eustachian tube Function and Practical Physiology for Surgeons | The Journal of Laryngology & Otology. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-laryngology-and-otology/article/evaluation-of-eustachian-tube-function-and-practical-physiology-for-surgeons/92DA0CD9330CB841F51CC2718858DD5E. Published June 3, 2016.
- Hughes RL-, Davies IMK-. Blocked ears. InnovAiT: Education and inspiration for general practice. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1755738014557875. Published December 19, 2014.
- Nanda MS. Efficacy of Steam Inhalation with Inhalant Capsules in Patients with Common Cold in a Rural Set Up. IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272823081. Published February 2015.
- Musso MF, Crews JD. Infections of the External Ear. Infectious Diseases in Pediatric Otolaryngology. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-21744-4_2.
- Head K, Chong LY, Bhutta MF. Topical antiseptics for chronic suppurative otitis media. Cochrane database of systematic reviews. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325932520. Published June 2018.
Summary of How to Unclog Ears
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