What is That Clogging my Ears?

Man holding blocked ear after swimming.

It’s been a couple of days. Your right ear is still completely blocked. The last time you were able to hear anything on that side was yesterday morning. You’re left feeling off balance as your left ear does double duty to pick up the slack. It didn’t improve after a night’s sleep as you were hoping it would. So, how long will your ear remain blocked?

Exactly how long your blockage will last depends, not unexpectedly, on what the cause of the blockage is. You might need to get medical attention if your blockage isn’t the type that clears itself up quickly.

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

When Should I Worry About a Blocked Ear?

You will most likely start contemplating the cause of your blockage after around a couple of days. You’ll probably start thinking about your activities over the last couple of days: were you doing anything that could have resulted in water getting stuck in your ear, for example?

You may also think about your health. Are you suffering from the kind of pain or discomfort (or fever) that may be related to an ear infection? If that’s the scenario, you may want to make an appointment.

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

  • Growths: Some kinds of growths, lumps, and bulges can cause a blocked feeling in your ears (and even impact your hearing).
  • Allergies: Various pollen allergies can trigger the body’s immune system response, which in turn cause swelling and fluid.
  • The ear canal or eustachian tube gets water stuck in it: Water and sweat can get stuck in the tiny areas of your ear with alarming ease. (Temporary blockage can definitely occur if you sweat heavily).
  • Permanent loss of hearing: Some forms of hearing loss feel a lot like a blocked ear. You should schedule an appointment if your “clogged ear” lasts longer than it should.
  • Air pressure variations: On occasion, your Eustachian tube can fail to properly adjust to changes in air pressure, causing the feeling of a short-term blockage in one or both ears.
  • Ear Infection: Your ear can ultimately become blocked by fluid accumulation or inflammation from an ear infection.
  • Sinus infection: Sinus infections can produce fluid accumulate in your ears because your ears, throat, and nose are all interconnected (causing a clog).
  • Build-up of earwax: Earwax can cause blockages if it’s not thoroughly draining or if it becomes compacted, hardening in place.

The Fastest Way to Bring Your Ears Back to Normal

So, if air pressure is the cause, your ears will normally go back to normal within a day or two. If an ear infection is behind your blocked ears, you may have to wait until your body fights off the virus or bacteria at work (you may need an antibiotic to get faster relief). And that may take as much as a week or two. You may have to wait even longer than that if you have a sinus infection.

A bit of patience will be necessary before your ears get back to normal (though that might feel counterintuitive), and you should be able to adjust your expectations according to your exact circumstances.

Not doing anything to exacerbate the situation is your most important first step. When you first begin to feel like your ears are plugged, it may be tempting to try and use cotton swabs to clear them out. All kinds of problems, from ear infections to hearing loss, can come from using cotton swabs so this can be a particularly dangerous approach. You will probably make the situation worse if you use cotton swabs.

If Your Ear is Still Blocked After a Week…it May be Hearing Loss

So you could be getting a bit antsy if a couple of days go by and you still have no idea what might be causing your blockage. A few days is normally enough time for your body to clear up any blockage. But the basic rule of thumb is that if things persist for more than a week or so, it might be a good choice to come see us.

That feeling of clogged ears can also be an indication of hearing loss. And as you probably understand from our other posts, neglected hearing loss can result in other health issues, especially over time.

Being cautious not to worsen the problem will normally permit the body to take care of the situation on its own. But treatment could be needed when those natural means fail. How long that takes will fluctuate depending on the underlying cause of your blocked ears.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Schedule an appointment to see if hearing aids could benefit you.