How To Unclog Ears

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How to unclog your ears

Similar to the stuffy nose, people can also have stuffy ears. Blocked, clogged, stuffed, and plugged are all the same terms used to describe a condition that can cause symptoms ranging from an earache to dizziness.

We all know that ears contribute to one of our five senses and also help maintain our body balance. Factors related to both inside and outside environment can lead to clogged ears.

The typical symptoms of stuffed ears include an earache, buzzing in the affected ear, itching inside the ears, reduction in hearing capacity, and a possible infectious or bloody discharge from one or both ears.

The cause behind your clogged ears can be too much wax in the auditory tube, a change of altitude, slippage of water into the ear canal, excessive earwax, infections, allergies, or sinus related issues.

This article sheds light on various home remedies that are used to unclog the ears. You will also learn about carefully implementing these remedies and making the right decision on when to seek professional help.

1. Valsalva manoeuvre

Valsalva manoeuvre is commonly used to equalize pressure in the middle ear. It is named after the physician and anatomist, Antonio Maria Valsalva, who described Eustachian tube and used this manoeuvre to test the tube’s patency.

He also explained how Valsalva manoeuvre could be used to discharge pus resulting from an ear infection. (1)

You can perform this manoeuvre to unclog your ears. Take a deep breath, close your mouth and pinch the nose. Now, try to exhale.

Since you won’t be able to breathe through nose or mouth, the air will find its way to the auditory tube and will reset the balance between outer and inner air pressure.

Caution: Keep in mind that blowing too hard can damage the eardrum. If Valsalva manoeuvre doesn’t work for you in a few attempts, try another method. Do NOT attempt this method if you have weak or perforated eardrums.

2. The Toynbee Manoeuvre

This technique is similar to Valsalva manoeuvre except that you need to swallow instead of exhaling the air. Closed mouth and nostril along with the movement of tongue upon swallowing compress the air that passes through the auditory tube.

This equalizes the inside air pressure with the outside air pressure. Observe cautions as mentioned above.

3. Warm compress

You can use three things readily available at home to unclog the ears. A piece of flannel cloth, warm water, and your hand can provide the necessary help.

Just wet the cloth using warm water. Wring it out. Now, apply this warm cloth to your affected ear. Do so for about 5 minutes. Make sure water dripping from the fabric does not enter the ear.

After 5 minutes, remove the cloth and use a wet hand to rub over the ears for about 10-20 seconds. Place your hand over the ear such that it seals it. Now create a suction cup by pushing your palm followed by pulling it away.

As you build this suction effect, tilt your head to the affected side.

With several minutes of repeating this procedure, the wax will begin to appear on your palms. You need to be patient to make this technique work.  

4. Olive oil

This remedy can be used to remove excess wax or a foreign object from the ear canal. Although wax is a natural product that the ears produce, sometimes your body starts producing excess wax, or a foreign object, such as insects, can enter the canal.

That is when the ears can become clogged.

Warm olive oil (or an alternative option, such as almond oil or baby oil) can help soften the excess wax or extract the foreign object.

Warm the oil to a tolerable temperature. Use a dropper with a narrow nozzle to introduce one or two drops of this oil in your ear. Tilt your head in the opposite direction, so the oil doesn’t escape from the treated ear.

After 15-20 seconds, tilt your head with the treated ear facing down. You will notice the loosened wax or any foreign object dripping out along with the oil. In the end, clean the ear canal with a cotton ball.

Repeat this procedure three times every day for five days or until you find relief from the clogged ears.

You can also apply this technique by using a mixture of 50% rubbing alcohol and 50% white vinegar instead of olive oil.

5. Swimmer's ear

Otitis externa or swimmer's ear is the infection of ears that results from leaving contaminated water in the outer ear canal after swimming. It is different from the usual infection and can affect swimmers irrespective of their age.

Infection occurs in the outer ear canal and can cause pain and discomfort. An estimated 2.4 million people in the US report to their healthcare provider with swimmer’s ear every year.

You may think of your swimming pool as clean and clear of germs. It is a common belief that regular pH checks and water chlorination makes pool water free of infection-causing bacteria.

Contrarily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that even a fine mist of contaminated water from hot tubs, swimming pools, water parks, and other water areas can cause ear infection, more specifically swimmer’s ear.

Follow these preventive steps to avoid this condition (2). (Hint: You can still enjoy swimming).

1.    Prefer swimming in clean water where you are assured of low bacterial levels. Although it is often tough to tell about the bacterial levels from the look of water, you can register with a reputable swimming pool and the management can provide relevant information.

2.    Do not insert foreign objects into the ear canal. Some people do that to prevent water from getting into the ear canal. There’s a safe way to prevent this from happening. Read point #4.

3.    Dry your ears soon after swimming or taking a bath. It reduces the chances of bacterial growth by removing moisture.

4.    Use swimmer’s plugs to minimize pool water that enters your ears. These are made from soft silicone that prevents any scratch or damage to the ear. Silicon makes these plugs float on the surface of water so as if you lose one, it’s easier to find.

You can either buy one-size-fits-all swim plugs or opt for custom-fit pairs that are available at a local hearing healthcare office.

A good quality swimmer’s plugs can be bought here.

5.    If you happen to have water trapped in the ear canal, use relevant commercial preparations to remove it from your ears.  Follow directions on the inside leaflet.

6. Use nasal sprays

You must have heard of an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist. These three areas of your body are well interconnected and are therefore seen by an ENT specialist.

Sometimes, you need to take care of the blocked sinuses to unclog your ears. If your clogged ears are a result of stuffed sinuses, buy yourself an over the counter decongestant, also known as nasal spray. Use as directed on the product.

7. Passive techniques

These methods are used explicitly for aeroplane ear, a condition in which ear become clogged as a result of a change in altitude while on an aeroplane. All of these techniques help open the Eustachian tubes in your ears and ease the symptoms of a clogged ear.

Some of the passive techniques include:

  • Yawning

  • Chewing gum

  • Drinking water

  • Swallowing frequently

8. Earplugs

These devices are marketed for aeroplane ears. Earplugs have special filters that keep the air flowing and maintain equal pressure in both ears. Although science does not provide any proof of the effectiveness of earplugs, anecdotal evidence suggests that they work.

A word of caution

Please remember that ears are a sensitive organ of your body. Only air and sound waves are designed to enter our ears. Be cautious when inserting any other thing in them. Use minimally invasive home remedies to unclog your ears.

Doctors specializing in ENT do not recommend regular cleaning of ears. Be gentle if you happen to have clogged ears and want to try a remedy at home.

There are various tools marketed as earwax removers. They may be unsafe for use and potentially cause deficits in hearing tendencies. A typical example of these products is ear candling. It involves the use of a lighted hollow candle to pull out earwax.

There have been various reports of people getting injured or burnt from these candles.

Similarly, avoid the use of bobby pins or cotton buds to clean your ears. These things can do more harm than the benefit. Bobby pins are especially likely to cause holes in the eardrums and injuries to the ear canal.  

When to consult a doctor

Contact your physician if you experience buzzing, ear pain, hearing loss, loss of balance, or discharge from ears. This may not mean a serious thing, but timely checkup can prevent complications.




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