Why Are my Ears Clogged?

Man holding blocked ear after swimming.

It’s now been a couple of days. Your right ear is still totally blocked. The last time you remember hearing anything in that direction was yesterday morning. Your left ear is trying to compensate, naturally, but only hearing from one direction leaves you feeling off-balance. It didn’t clear up after a night’s sleep as you hoped it would. So will your blocked ear clear up soon?

Precisely how long your blockage will last depends, not surprisingly, on what the cause of the blockage is. You could need to seek out medical attention if your blockage isn’t the type that clears itself up quickly.

You shouldn’t allow your blockage to linger for longer than one week, as a general rule, without getting it examined.

When Should I Be Concerned About a Clogged Ear?

You will most likely start contemplating the cause of your blockage after around a couple of days. Maybe you’ll examine your behavior from the previous two or three days: were you doing anything that could have resulted in water getting stuck in your ear, for example?

How about your state of health? Are you suffering from any symptoms of an ear infection? You may want to make an appointment if that’s the case.

Those questions are really just the tip of the iceberg. A clogged ear could have multiple possible causes:

  • Allergies: Fluid production and swelling can develop when the body’s immune system kicks in – in response to an allergic reaction.
  • Changes in air pressure: If the pressure in the air changes all of a sudden, your eustachian tube can fail to compensate which can temporarily cause obstruction.
  • The eustachian tube or ear canal gets water stuck in it: The little places inside the ear are alarmingly efficient at trapping water and sweat. (If you often sweat profusely, this can definitely end up clogging your ears temporarily).
  • Ear Infection: Your ear can ultimately become blocked by fluid accumulation or inflammation from an ear infection.
  • Growths: Some kinds of growths, lumps, and bulges can cause a blocked feeling in your ears (and even interfere with your hearing).
  • Irreversible loss of hearing: Some types of hearing loss feel a lot like a blocked ear. You should schedule an appointment if your “clogged ear” lasts longer than it should.
  • Build-up of earwax: Earwax can lead to blockages if it’s not effectively draining or if it becomes compacted, hardening in place.
  • Sinus infection: Because your sinuses, ears and throat are all connected, a sinus infection can cause excess fluids to become lodged in your ears (causing a clog).

The Fastest Way to Get Your Ears Back to Normal

So, if air pressure is the cause, your ears will usually return to normal in a day or two. You may need to wait for your immune system to start working if your blockage is due to an ear infection (you might need an antibiotic to get faster relief). And that could take as much as a week or two. Sinus infections have been known to last even longer.

Getting your ears back to normal as quickly as you can, then, will normally involve some patience (though that might feel counterintuitive), and your expectations should be, well, adjustable.

Not doing anything to exacerbate the situation is your most important first step. When you first start to feel like your ears are blocked, it might be tempting to attempt to use cotton swabs to clear them out. This can be an especially dangerous strategy (cotton swabs have been known to cause all kinds of issues and complications, from infection to hearing loss). You will most likely worsen the situation if you use cotton swabs.

It’s Possible That Your “Blockage” is Hearing Loss

So, if your ear is still clogged after two days and you don’t have any really good ideas as to what’s causing it, you might be understandably impatient. In nearly all cases, your blockage will clear itself up after a few days. But the basic rule of thumb is that if things last for more than a week or so, it might be a wise decision to come see us.

Early indications of hearing loss can also feel like clogged ears. And you don’t want to neglect hearing loss because, as you’ve probably read in our other posts, it can cause a whole range of other health problems.

Doing no additional damage first will allow your body a chance to mend and clear that blockage away naturally. But treatment might be needed when those natural means fail. Depending on the cause of your blockage, this could take a varying amount of time.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.