Being sick is no fun. As humans, we often take feeling normal for granted. Suddenly when you’re sick, in one way or another, everything feels off, and going about your daily life comes to a grinding halt as your health becomes the only priority. We’ve understood this more than ever over the last few years during the pandemic.
Have you ever asked yourself when you’re sick, “Why do my ears feel clogged?” Sometimes when you have a cold, allergies, or ear infection, your ears can get stuffy just like your other senses. It’s weird and alarming, and it may make you jump to quick conclusions, like am I losing my hearing?
In this blog, we’re going to tackle some of the most common reasons for clogged ears, especially when you’re sick. In the end, you might not worry so much about it the next time it happens to you. But again, it depends on the cause. Let’s get started.
When you have a common cold, your ears could become clogged or “plugged.” This happens because your eustachian tubes, which run from the back of your nose to your middle ear, can become blocked. This could feel like pressure or like something is muffling the noise going into your ears.
This isn’t a big deal and often fixes itself as you recover from your sickness. Swallowing, chewing gum, or even yawning could release this pressure and make the clogged sensation go away. Or you can try blowing out your nose while you hold your nostrils shut. This can release pressure from your ears.
If you’re still experiencing this sensation after you’ve otherwise recovered from your cold, it might be a sign of a deeper issue. It could be something simple like a buildup of earwax or another obstacle blocking your hearing, or it could be an ear infection or a warning sign of tinnitus, which affects 15 to 20 percent of people. You may have tinnitus if you’re experiencing the following:
- Ringing or buzzing noises in your ears
- Noises you can hear but others can’t
- Clicking noises
- Pressure or blockage obstructing your hearing
An ear infection is an infection in the middle ear. Children commonly have ear infections and it’s rare in adults, but it’s still common. Depending on your symptoms and the severity of the infection, it could go away on its own. But if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort and it won’t go away, it’s time to see a doctor. Common ear infection symptoms include:
- Ear pain
- Trouble hearing
- Pressure or blockage
Symptoms to look for in children:
- Ear pain, especially when lying down
- Pulling at their ear
- Sleep problems
- Lack of balance
- A high fever (100 or more)
- Drainage from ear
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive crying
- Headache or dizziness
- Fussing and general discomfort
Again, your clogged ears could fix themselves at home. But if they don’t, there are some home remedies for unclogging them assuming you only have a buildup of wax or pressure and not a larger cause like an infection or something stuck in your ear. Some at-home treatments for clogged ears include:
- Over-the-counter ear drops
- Chewing gum
- Swallowing or yawning
- Blowing out your nose while holding your nostrils shut
- Inhaling steam
- Earwax removal tools and fluids
- Health supplements aimed at tinnitus or overall ear health
If your symptoms are lasting longer than a day or two, getting worse, or you’re experiencing more symptoms each day, it’s time to seek medical help. Or if you simply can’t take the ear pain anymore, a doctor can prescribe drops or other medicines to relieve your ear pain or pressure.
If you’re experiencing a significant amount of pain, combined with discharge from the ear, go see a doctor. If clogged ears are your only symptom, you can wait up to two weeks for relief to happen naturally. If it doesn’t resolve itself, go seek medical help. Of course, if an object is stuck in your ear and is causing your ear discomfort or pain, immediately seek medical help as this could cause permanent damage to your hearing or ear health.
Maintaining proper ear health is the best way to prevent clogged ears, though this is easier said than done. Many humans are confused about the best ways to clean their ears.
For example, cotton swabs are notoriously used ear cleaners that doctors are always warning against. As a rule, putting anything into your ear is a bad idea, medically speaking. This can cause infection, damage to your eardrums or other parts of the ear, and make your sensation worse. It can also cause significant hearing loss.
In fact, you generally don’t need to clean your ears. But sometimes there may be a buildup of too much wax that can obstruct your hearing. Instead of putting something pointy into your ear, use a washcloth. Certain fluids, like baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, and others, can soften your earwax and make it easier to remove. Earwax candles are also popular but not recommended, as they can lead to injury or infection and really aren’t that effective.
Sometimes your ears get clogged. It happens to everyone. Most of the time it’s not a big deal and will resolve itself. This is generally caused by plugged ears due to a cold, sinus infection, or ear infection. Even most ear infections fix themselves.
But if your symptoms continue, or others emerge like those seen with tinnitus, visit a medical professional and they’ll provide you with medicine or advice about what to do and what not to do. Don’t put anything into your ears, like cotton swabs. Don’t dig into your ears to try and unclog them with your fingers or other pointy instruments.
But overall, if you’re sick and your ears feel clogged, relax and be patient. They will likely feel normal in a few days.