When your ears are plugged, it may be due to a blocked eustachian tubes, a tube which connect your middle ear to the back of your nose. You may also experience a sense of fullness or pressure in your ears. Symptoms such as earache, dizziness, and distorted hearing are all possible. Normally, the blockage resolves as the swelling of the tube subsides.
To unblock your eustachian tubes, try swallowing, yawning, or chewing sugar-free gum. If this does not work, take a deep breath and gently blow out of your nose while squeezing your nostrils and lips closed. If you hear a popping sound, you've succeeded.
What is a Blocked Ear and how would I know?
A blocked ear or ears can be a significant inconvenience and, in some cases, a health risk. Blocked ears can distort and muffle sounds, impairing your ability to hear your surroundings. Not only is having blocked ears annoying, but it is frequently accompanied by other symptoms such as ear pain, ringing in the ear, or dizziness.
Ear Blockage: Causes and Symptoms
The following are symptoms: associated with ear block.
- A sensation of fullness in the ear
- Ear pain.
- Hearing impairment
- Ear ringing (tinnitus).
- Ear discharge or odour.
Various factors can cause a blocked ear; surprisingly, it is not always due to ear wax. Although there are numerous reasons for an ear to become blocked, we highlight the five most common reasons:
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD)
The eustachian tube is a small canal (approximately 1.5 inches long and a few millimetres in diameter) that connects either ear (from the middle ear) to the back of the nose, an area known as the nasopharynx. The eustachian tubes remain closed most of the time; however, they will open when a person chews, yawns, or swallows. These tubes are responsible for balancing the pressure between the middle ear and the environment.
Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection)
The middle ear is a susceptible area of the ear. Behind the eardrum is an air-filled space known as the middle ear. It contains ear bones (also known as ossicles) that responsible for transmitting sound from the outer to the inner ear.
Occasionally, nasal congestion (due to illnesses, sinus infections, or allergies) can cause the eustachian tubes to close, resulting in fluid build-up and inflammation in the middle ear. Additionally, a bacterial sinus infection can spread to the middle ear, resulting in swelling, fluid accumulation, and disease. This is referred to as otitis media and is frequently accompanied by ear pain and pressure.
Earwax Obstruction or Blockage
Earwax is a naturally occurring substance that coats the ears and protects them from water, bacteria, fungi, and other elements. It keeps the ears lubricated and clean; however, occasionally, excessive earwax accumulates, causing problems.
Typically, earwax produced by the ear moves outwards to the ear canal opening and falls out. However, some individuals may produce excessive ear wax, too much for the body to clear spontaneously, eventually affecting the hearing. As earwax accumulates over time, it may harden and become difficult to remove, making ears more susceptible to blockages. Self cleaning with cotton buds sometimes worsening the situation.
Otitis Externa (Swimmer's Ear)
Otitis Externa, also known as swimmer's ear, is an infection or inflammation of the external ear canal, i.e. the canal between the eardrum and the outer ear. This is frequently triggered by exposure to water or excessive ear cleaning. Apart from hearing loss, this condition may cause pain, itchiness, smelly ear discharge, pus in the ear canal, and buzzing or humming noises in the affected ear. Otitis externa may be due to a fungal or bacterial infection. Antibiotics or antifungal medication are prescribed. Ear cleaning to remove the pus and discharge aids recovery.
Barotrauma (Aeroplane Ear)
When the pressure inside your ear differs from the pressure outside your body for an extended period, severe damage to your eardrum can occur. This type of injury is referred to as barotrauma. It is frequently encountered by those who scuba dive, fly often, and drive or hike at high altitudes—barotrauma results in ear pain, dizziness, and a pressure sensation in the ears. Severe barotrauma can result in the rupture of the eardrum, hearing loss, and nose bleeds.
What can you do about clogged ears and ringing in your ears?
There are several treatments if your ears feel clogged and ringing. However, you should consult a physician before and following any attempt to remove earwax or a foreign object. Doctors may conduct a hearing test, especially if the patient reports a hearing loss. If the individual's hearing does not return following the removal of the blockage, the blockage (or previous attempts to remove it) may be due to causes arising from the middle or inner ear.
The ear wax may be removed by the doctor using the following methods.
- Earwax Curette - an instrument with a loop at the end—to remove earwax.
- Flush the ear with a syringe and water.
- Suction apparatus and a microscope
Expungement of a foreign object
An otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat doctor) will be able to remove all foreign objects from the ear canal. The otolaryngologist carefully removes the foreign body using a microscope and specialized tools. The doctor may use a small, blunt hook or a small vacuum device to remove the foreign objects. Small alligator forceps can remove objects with an edge (such as a strand of hair).
Elimination of an insect
Insects, such as cockroaches or beetle, can enter and obstruct the ear canal. To kill the insect, the doctor introduces either lidocaine (a numbing agent that provides immediate pain relief) or alcohol solution into the ear canal (if the eardrum is intact). The insect dies after a few minutes, allowing the doctor to remove it without further injuries by the insect.
Pressure in Ears Won't Go Away for a month: What Should I do?
There are numerous reasons for pressure to build up in the ears, ranging from altitude changes to ear infections. Occasionally, it is simple to relieve the pressure, but it may take longer in other occasion.
Individuals can first attempt to pop their ears open via the eustachian tube to alleviate pressure. They can achieve this by:
- chewing gum
- wiggling the jaw
- gently exhaling against a closed airway (Valsalva maneuver)
Sucking on hard candy, such as a lollipop, can be a gentle way to keep the ear tubes open. Sucking on a bottle or pacifier can have the same effect on a baby.
Individuals can attempt to prepare before engaging in an activity that increases ear pressure. For example, it may be beneficial to begin wiggling the jaw before boarding a plane to give the ears additional time to adjust to the outside (atmospheric) pressure. Similarly during a plane descent, start equalising the ear early to prevent blockage.
Treatments for ear pressure can be either preventative, such as for someone about to fly, or curative, such as for those who have blocked ears that they cannot pop.
If a patient has a history of ear problems, a doctor may prescribe preventive treatments.
Persistent ear block due to middle ear fluid may be the presenting symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer. Hence, when in doubt, please consult a doctor early.
Is there an over-the-counter medicine or remedy?
For those with mild to moderate symptoms, over-the-counter (OTC) nasal sprays and decongestants can help to alleviate ear pressure. Oral pseudoephedrine is one such example
OTC options are appropriate for air travellers before a flight. However, they should not be used excessively, as prolonged use can result in complications.
For example, if a person uses decongestant nasal sprays excessively over a period of time, they may cease to provide relief and instead exacerbate congestion.
When to seek medical help?
It's critical to recognise when it's time to visit your doctor and have it checked, just in case the symptoms are due to something more serious.
In the event that you experience any of the following symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately:
- The symptoms did not improve within three days
- When the body temperature exceeds 38-degree celsius, a fever may accompany it, indicating a more severe infection. Ear infections are a common occurrence. They can eventually result in hearing loss.
- When a child is younger than six months old, and the symptoms of an ear infection are present.
- Pus, bloody or a smelly fluid is discharging from the ear.
- The discomfort become worsen especially when other symptoms such as vomiting, headaches, a stiff neck, drowsiness, and a loss of balance are present.
- Persistent ear block for more than 2 weeks without resolution.
While blocked ears can be unpleasant, bothersome, and uncomfortable, they typically resolve spontaneously or with appropriate medical intervention. Seek help if the ear block is persistent, or associated with pain, ear discharge or fever.