How to Unclog Your Ears

Common Causes and Treatments for Clogged Ears

You probably know how to unclog your ears under some circumstances, such as driving up a mountain. In some situations, though, you should leave the ear unclogging to a healthcare provider so you don't damage the delicate structures inside your ears.

This article looks at when and how to unclog ears your ears on your own, the symptoms and causes that warrant seeing a professional, and the possible treatments.

why are my ears clogged

Verywell / Emily Roberts

When and How to Unclog Your Ears Yourself

When you first notice your ears are clogged, you can try:

  • Swallowing
  • Chewing gum or eating
  • Yawning

You can also:

  1. Pinch your nose shut
  2. Close your mouth
  3. Try to blow out through your nose

If those options don't work, you may need medical attention or self-treatment at home. It all depends on what's clogging your ears.

Changes in Altitude or Atmospheric Pressure

  • Causes: When atmospheric pressure changes or you change altitude, the pressure change can cause your ears to clog or "pop." Extreme changes may injure your eardrum or other structures.
  • Symptoms: Clogging while you're driving up a steep mountain, taking off in an airplane, or SCUBA diving, called barotrauma. Pressure may be uncomfortable and reduce your hearing.
  • Treatment: The best ways to prevent this are to swallow, chew gum, or frequently yawn. This opens up your eustachian tube and lets outside air enter the ear, which equalizes the pressure.

If you have allergies or frequently have trouble unclogging your ears during altitude changes, you may want to take your allergy medication or a decongestant ahead of time.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian (or auditory) tube dysfunction is an umbrella term for many things that can make your ears feel clogged.

Causes include:

The first two problems are especially common in children.

Some sinus infections require antibiotics, which must be prescribed by a healthcare provider.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you're getting worse despite treatment, especially with COVID-19 or influenza, see your healthcare provider soon to avoid serious illness and complications.

Ear Infections

As with sinus infections, ear infections sometimes go away on their own. Other times, you may need antibiotics. If symptoms are mild, you can try home remedies before seeing a healthcare provider.

  • Causes: Viruses, which don't require antibiotics, and bacteria, which may require antibiotics.
  • Symptoms: Ear pain, fever, difficulty sleeping; in children, fussiness, irritability, rubbing or tugging at the ear.
  • Home Treatment: Cold or hot compress over the infected ear, OTC pain relievers (e.g., Advil, Tylenol), a few drops of hydrogen peroxide (allow it to bubble, then tip your head to drain it out).

If the infection doesn't start getting better in two or three days, see a healthcare provider.

Get Emergency Treatment For a Child With:

  • A temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (F) in a baby under 3 months old
  • A temperature over 104 degrees F in children over 3 months old
  • A stiff neck
  • Sluggishness or seeming very sick
  • Constant crying
  • Unsteady gait
  • Signs of weakness, especially in the face (e.g., a crooked smile)
  • Bloody or pus-filled ear drainage
  • Severe pain

How Healthcare Providers Unclog Your Ears

Sometimes, you need to see a healthcare provider for clogged ears so you don't risk damaging your ears—which can impair your hearing. You can get a good idea of possible causes by paying attention to your other symptoms.

Fluid In the Ear

  • Causes: Congestion or inflamed structures can trap liquid in the eustachian tube, which connects your middle ear to the back of your throat, where fluid typically drains.
  • Symptoms: May not cause symptoms other than clogging. May cause pain and—eventually—permanent changes to the eardrum and/or hearing loss.
  • Treatment: For prolonged cases, your healthcare provider may re-check it every few months. After the six-month mark, they may recommend ventilating tubes to clear it out.

If young children have fluid in the ears for a long time without treatment, it may lead to hearing loss and/or delayed speech.

Get Urgent Medical Care For:

Excessive Ear Wax

  • Causes: Generally has no known cause. Your body may produce too much wax or it may not be able to clear it efficiently.
  • Symptoms: If you have a blockage, you may have ear pain, ear infections, a feeling of fullness, ringing, hearing loss, dizziness, itchiness, or cough.
  • Treatment: Your healthcare provider may flush your ear with water, scoop out the wax with special tools, or use ear drops that dissolve the wax.

Trying to remove excessive ear wax on your own may push it deeper, which sometimes ruptures the eardrum.

Foreign Objects

  • Causes: A foreign object being lodged in the ear canal; this is most common in young children, who may put something in there out of curiosity or because a friend dared them to.
  • Symptoms: Pain is common. You may notice a child rubbing their ear and looking uncomfortable. If left in for a long time, the object may cause an infection.
  • Treatment: A healthcare provider can remove the object with special tools.

Don't try to remove the object yourself. You may push it in deeper and cause damage.

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

Summary

For simple causes of clogged ears, you can try swallowing, yawning, chewing, or eating. Decongestants or antihistamines may sometimes help.

Common causes of clogged ears include changes in altitude or atmospheric pressure, eustachian tube dysfunction, ear infections, and fluid, foreign objects, or ear wax blocking the eustachian tube.

Most of the time, these problems are easily diagnosed and treated. Some causes always require medical help (fluid, foreign objects, or ear wax buildup).

Some cases of eustachian tube dysfunction may clear up on their own, while others may need prescription antibiotics. You can likely manage pressure changes on your own.

A Word From Verywell

Much of the time, clogged ears are just an annoyance that you can easily deal with. Keep in mind that if you know how to unclog ears and simple methods don't work, you may need medical help.

If your ears—or your child's ears—are clogged for a long time, it can lead to complications. Get prompt treatment any time it seems like something is physically blocking your ears, if the ear(s) could be infected, or if simple methods of clearing or popping them don't work.

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, it 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 plugged by wax buildup.

    Candling is discouraged because it can seriously damage your ear canal and eardrum.

9 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. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, McGovern Medical School: UTHealthHouston. How to pop your ears.

  2. American Academy of Family Physicians: familydoctor.org. Sinusitis.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sinus infection (sinusitis).

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ear infection.

  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Eustachian tube dysfunction.

  6. 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

  7. National Health Service: NHS Inform. Earwax build-up.

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

  9. 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.