How to Unclog Your Ears

Common Causes and Treatments for Clogged Ears

Depending on the cause, it can be simple to unclog your ears at home by yawning, chewing, or swallowing. Decongestants or antihistamines can also help your ears "pop" or become unplugged.

In some cases, you may have to see your healthcare provider to unclog your ears, especially if the cause is a foreign object or excessive ear wax.

This article describes how to unclog ears, possible reasons your ears may feel clogged or plugged, and common treatment options.

why are my ears clogged

Verywell / Emily Roberts

How to Unclog Ears

Sometimes you can unclog your ear at home. Some simple solutions to pop your ears include:

  • Swallowing
  • Chewing
  • Yawning

A decongestant or antihistamine may help if you have a cold or allergies.

If you have excessive ear wax or an object in your ear, your doctor can use special tools to clear it out safely.

Causes of Clogged Ears

Common causes of clogged ears include:

Knowing the cause behind ear blockage can help you better understand how to unclog your ears. Each cause has a different treatment, and it's important to get a professional opinion.

Fluid in the Ear

Plugged ears can be a result of swelling in the auditory tube, also known as the eustachian tube. This tube in your ear normally equalizes pressure in the middle ear.

Sometimes, though, the tube can become plugged and the fluid gets trapped in the middle ear.

Causes

Some health conditions can cause blockage of the eustachian tube. A common cause is congestion, such as from a severe cold or allergies. Swollen structures such as tonsils, adenoids, and turbinates in the nose can also block the tubes.

Fluid in the ear is more common in children because their eustachian tubes are narrower and naturally more horizontal than an adult's eustachian tube.

Symptoms

Fluid in the ear often causes few symptoms or no symptoms at all. Sometimes the fluid in the ear can cause your ears to feel clogged, and in severe cases, it can cause ear pain.

Plugged ears can result in hearing loss. If young children are not diagnosed or treated, it can lead to speech delays.

Treatment

If you or your child don't have any troubling symptoms or risks for complications, your healthcare provider may monitor the fluid every three to six months to see if it goes away on its own.

Sometimes, a myringotomy and tympanostomy tube placement may be needed. This is a common procedure that's done with anesthesia.

During the procedure, a tiny hole is created in the eardrum, with small tubes inserted into the tympanic membrane to hold it open. This tube allows the fluid to drain out. The hole in the eardrum heals on its own in a few days, and the tubing will fall out by itself about a year later.

Recap

Fluid in the ears may cause ear pressure and pain, and it can lead to more serious issues if it isn't treated and persists. That's especially true in children, who risk hearing loss and speech delays in severe cases. Contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns about plugged ears.

Altitude Changes

Clogged ears can be caused by rapid pressure changes in the environment.

Causes

Along with the eardrum, the eustachian tube helps to equalize pressure between the middle ear and the outer ear.

Altitude changes or environmental pressure changes may affect the eustachian tube and cause what's known as barotrauma.

Symptoms

Your ears may feel clogged from altitude change during situations such as:

  • Driving up a steep mountain
  • Taking off in an airplane
  • While scuba diving

If precautions are not taken, extreme pressure changes can lead to an ear injury, like a ruptured eardrum.

Treatment

The best way to prevent clogged ears and to help protect the ears from altitude changes is to swallow, chew, or yawn often. This opens up your eustachian tube to allow outside air to enter the ear and can help unclog ears.

You may also benefit from using an over-the-counter decongestant if you typically have trouble unclogging your ears when exposed to altitude changes. This helps unblock the auditory tubes.

  • If you have allergies, use your allergy medication at the start of the flight.
  • Take the decongestant an hour before your flight starts its landing descent.

See a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you experience:

Excessive Ear Wax

Sometimes, plugged ears can be caused by too much ear wax. This is not common since the ears normally have their own built-in cleaning system.

Causes

This problem usually occurs without a known cause.

Symptoms

Some people may produce too much ear wax or don't efficiently clear it, which can clog ears.

Treatment

Don't try to remove excess ear wax by yourself. Your healthcare professional can remove it with special tools to avoid rupturing your eardrum or pushing the wax even further into your ear.

Your clinician may use one of a few methods to remove the ear wax and unclog ears:

  • Flushing the ear with water
  • Scooping ear wax out with a tool called a curette or cerumen spoon
  • Using ear drops that dissolve ear wax

Foreign Object

Foreign objects that get in your ears can cause them to get clogged.

Causes

It is not uncommon for young children to put things in their ears. This may happen out of curiosity or a dare from a friend, as is often the case with foreign object nasal obstructions.

Symptoms

If the child isn't old enough to tell you what they're feeling, some clues include constant ear rubbing and grimacing. This doesn't cause fever or cold symptoms unless the object is in the ear long enough to cause an infection.

Treatment

You can use a flashlight to take a look, but you shouldn't try to remove the item yourself. Never stick anything sharp inside of the ear in an attempt to remove any object.

The best thing to do is to take a trip to the pediatrician's office. They have special tools they can use to see the object better and remove it safely.

If you notice any fluid draining from the ear or smell a foul odor, your child needs to see a healthcare professional immediately.

Summary

Common causes of a clogged ears or the feeling of a plugged ear include:

  • Having fluid in the ear
  • Build-up of too much ear wax
  • Altitude changes when flying or driving
  • A foreign object in the ear

Most of the time, these problems are easily diagnosed and treated.

But persistent problems in young children can lead to infections, hearing loss, and even speech delays. And you should never put anything in the ear to try to remove ear wax or a foreign object. See a healthcare provider for safe treatment instead.

A Word From Verywell

Having your clogged ears or ears that feel plugged all the time can be upsetting. To prevent long-term complications, it's important that treatment is appropriate for the condition.

Be sure to see your healthcare provider if you have pain and hear a popping sound, see fluid draining from the ear, or have changes in your hearing or balance.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does a blocked ear last?

    It depends on the cause. If your ear is blocked from pressure on an airplane, your ears may return to normal shortly after landing. If your ear is blocked because of fluid, it can sometimes take up to three months for your ears to clear.

  • When should you see a doctor for a clogged ear?

    Check with your doctor if your ear is still blocked after a week. Also make an appointment if you have other symptoms like pain, fever, or fluid draining from the ear.

  • Can ear candling unclog ears?

    Ear candling is the practice of using hollow, lit candles to draw out excess earwax. However, it's not an effective method to unclog ears from wax.

    Also, candling is discouraged because it can seriously damage your ear canal and eardrum.


11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Trojanowska A, Drop A, Trojanowski P, Rosińska-Bogusiewicz K, Klatka J, Bobek-Billewicz B. External and middle ear diseases: radiological diagnosis based on clinical signs and symptoms. Insights Imaging. 2012;3(1):33-48. doi:10.1007/s13244-011-0126-z

  2. Teschner M. Evidence and evidence gaps in the treatment of Eustachian tube dysfunction and otitis media. GMS Curr Top Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016;15:Doc05. doi:10.3205/cto000132

  3. Ear infections. Paediatr Child Health. 2009;14(7):465-8.

  4. Minovi A, Dazert S. Diseases of the middle ear in childhood. GMS Curr Top Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014;13:Doc11. doi:10.3205/cto000114

  5. Mcdonald MH, Hoffman MR, Gentry LR, Jiang JJ. New insights into mechanism of Eustachian tube ventilation based on cine computed tomography images. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2012;269(8):1901-7. doi:10.1007/s00405-011-1829-y

  6. Hamilton-Farrell M, Bhattacharyya A. Barotrauma. Injury. 2004;35(4):359-70. doi:10.1016/j.injury.2003.08.020

  7. Lima MA, Farage L, Cury MC, Bahamad F. Update on middle ear barotrauma after hyperbaric oxygen therapy-insights on pathophysiology. Int Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2014;18(2):204-9. doi:10.1055/s-0034-1366974

  8. Air travel and children's health issues. Paediatr Child Health. 2007;12(1):45-59.

  9. Loveman E, Gospodarevskaya E, Clegg A, et al. Ear wax removal interventions: a systematic review and economic evaluation. Br J Gen Pract. 2011;61(591):e680-3. doi:10.3399/bjgp11X601497

  10. American Academy of Family Physicians. Otitis media (with effusion).

  11. Schwartz SR, Magit AE, Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical practice guideline (update): Earwax (cerumen impaction)Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;156(1_suppl):S1-S29. doi:10.1177/0194599816671491

Additional Reading

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.