Having clogged or plugged ears is an irritating and highly uncomfortable sensation. And even though something as silly as improperly blowing your nose can cause it, that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
The first automatic response is to try and pop them. When you do that, the eustachian tube (which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose) opens and allows a small air bubble to move from the nose and into the ear. If the tube doesn’t open effortlessly, it could be blocked. This can be caused by earwax, fluid or mucus.
Easy Ear-Popping Techniques
How to make your ears pop safely? There are a few techniques:
1. Just Swallow
When you do this, your muscles automatically work to help open the eustachian tube. Sucking on hard candy or chewing sugar-free gum can also help since it helps saliva production.
2. Make Yourself Yawn
Or if you can’t do that, fake it. Open your mouth as wide as you can and try to breathe, that should cause a similar effect.
3. Valsalva Maneuver
This is done by closing your mouth and pinching your nose shut while trying to exhale. When doing this, be gentle and cautious, since there is a small risk of rupturing the eardrum. It was named after Antonio Maria Valsalva, a 17th century physician whose primary fascination was the human ear.
4. Toynbee Maneuver
This is a similar method to the Valsalva, since you do close your mouth and pinch the nose, but instead of blowing the air out, you try to swallow your saliva. Having a bit of water in your mouth might help.
5. Frenzel Maneuver
To do this maneuver, you just need to pinch your nose and make a clicking sound with your tongue.
Reasons Why Your Ears Might Be Clogged
Since there could be a variety of reasons why your ears are clogged, these might not always work. Here are some other possible causes of ear discomfort and the ways to resolve it:
1. Excessive Earwax
While an earwax blockage isn’t considered a serious medical emergency, it can cause problems that affect hearing or result in an ear infection. It’s not clear why such blockages occur, but some individuals seem to overproduce earwax. The ear canals should “self-clean”, but when that doesn’t happen, you should ask your physician for help.
2. Airplane Ear (Ear Barotrauma)
Airplane ear occurs when the air pressure in the environment and the air pressure in your middle ear are out of balance. For example, it could happen at the beginning or end of a flight or while deep diving. It can manifest in one or both ears and can cause pain, muffled hearing and feelings of fullness in the ears. If it lasts for more than a few hours, it can cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and vertigo (spinning sensation).
While the above techniques can help with this condition, sometimes it’s helpful to use a nasal spray. Using filtered earplugs can help prevent ear barotrauma from happening. When flying with children, encourage swallowing, or consider using ear drops.
3. Short-Term Ear Infection
Since the eustachian tube runs from the middle of each ear to the back of the throat, it drains fluid that is made in the middle ear. If this tube gets blocked, the fluid can build up, which can lead to ear infections. Even though these infections can happen to adults, they are most common in infants and children.
Some of the symptoms include ear pain or earache, muffled hearing, fatigue, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Acute ear infections often start right after or during a cold, but there are many other factors that can cause them, like allergies, sinus infections, overgrown or inflamed adenoids and excessive exposure to tobacco smoke. If they are persistent (which happens often with children), their treatment requires antibiotics. Other remedies can include:
- over-the-counter ear pain relief drops
- applying a warm cloth over the affected ear
- medications that relieve symptoms such as pain or fever
Allergic rhinitis or hay fever, usually caused by allergens like dust or pollen, can lead to congested ear tubes. Since the nose canals are stuffed and irritated, the mucus comes back up and clogs the ear tube. Using nasal steroid sprays or nasal decongestants, as well as antihistamines helps with this particular problem.
Solving the Problem by Yourself
There are a few at-home remedies you can use for dealing with plugged ears, and some of them are:
1. Using Mineral Oils
Warm two tablespoons of mineral, baby or olive oil, put it in an eyedropper and put one to two drops into your ear. You should then keep the head tilted up to 15 seconds and be cautious not to make the oil too hot – this is so it won’t irritate the skin. Do this for a couple of days or until it feels better.
2. Using Hydrogen Peroxide
Mix hydrogen peroxide with warm water and drip the solution into your ear, the same way as the oils. You will most likely experience a fizzing sensation, so keep your head tilted until it stops.
3. A Warm Shower
Showering for 10-15 minutes can let steam into the ear canals, which can soften the earwax.
4. Ear Irrigation
This is a procedure which removes excess earwax and foreign materials from the ear. Ear irrigation can be done at home, but you should consult a physician before doing it.
There are various ways to make your ears pop, and in many cases a simple yawn will work just fine. But sometimes those aren’t enough because there are more problematic causes that make you have those nasty sensations in your ears.
If the symptoms don’t subside in a few days, even after trying different techniques, you should definitely seek professional help from your doctor. Don’t be afraid to do so, since all of these problems are easily treated and you will be back to your healthy self in no time.