How to Unplug Ears

Clogged or plugged ears are a common condition that happens when there is blockage in the Eustachian tube. A buildup of wax and fluid due to ear infections, sinusitis and air pressure changes are all culprits. Clogging or blockage in the ear can lead to feelings of pain, discomfort and dizziness, and your ears will feel like they are uncomfortably full.

How to Unplug Ears

1. Common Ways to Unplug Ears

Earwax Removal. Earwax serves as a barrier for water, dust, and infection. However, excess buildup of wax can cause pain and discomfort and this excess needs to be removed.

  • Wax Softeners. Using oils such as baby oil, olive oil and mineral oils can help soften earwax and make it easier for removal. Other common wax softeners include glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. A lot of these softeners come in ear drop form so they are easy to use. Lie on your side and put 3-4 drops in your ear. Rinse your ear after some minutes to wipe away loosened wax.
  • Ear Irrigation. When wax buildup is persistent or the softening technique is not working, ear irrigation may be required. A bulb syringe is filled with warm, sterile saline water that is then squirted through the ears. The gentle force loosens the wax so it can flow out with the water. Some commonly used at home kits are Mack’s Pro Rinse Earwax Removal Kit and Debrox Earwax Removal Aid. Be sure to follow the procedures listed with these kits.

Relieving Blockage. Colds, sinusitis and allergies lead to blockages in the Eustachian tube that can cause the buildup of fluids in the middle ear. If not treated, more serious infections can occur.

  • Steam Inhalation. Fill a bowl with hot, steaming water. Lean over the bowl so that your face is in the steam and place a towel over your head. The steam helps mucus along to keep it from blocking the sinuses. It also helps to drain out pus and debris that may be built up.
  • Decongestants. Decongestants help rid the sinuses of congestion. They decrease the production of mucus so that the sinuses can remain clear and the ears will not feel clogged or congested.
  • Antibiotics. In case of ear infections, antibiotics may be used to help control the infection and drain out pus.

Alleviating Barotrauma. Travelling at high altitudes, air travel or scuba diving cause changes in pressure that affect the inner and outer side of the eardrum. Barotrauma can often be quite painful, causing piercing sensations and immense pressure within the ear.

  • Yawn. Yawning helps open the Eustachian tube to allow air to flow through the ear. The pressure inside and outside the ear is equalized.
  • Suck on Candies or Chew Gum. This increases muscular movements which help to balance pressure.
  • Pop Ears. Close your mouth and plug your nose while exhaling strongly. This forces open the blockage and is characterized by a popping sound.

Microsuction. This procedure works by using a mild suction and vacuuming to remove wax, fluids and foreign bodies. You can use at home kits, but for persistent buildup it is a better idea to have this procedure completed by a medical professional.

2. Ways to Unplug Ears after Flying

The middle ear is an air pocket that is highly susceptible to air pressure changes. During flight, there are changes to air pressure as the plane gains or loses significant altitude. This pressure is most common during landing as the plane is quickly moving from a high air pressure to low air pressure.

There are a few things you can do to help alleviate this pressure. Yawning and swallowing are the most common. However, when those are not working try pinching your nose shut, inhaling through your mouth and exhaling “through your ears” (the pressure of the exhale will equalize pressure in the ears). Drinking water and using earplugs are also a great aid to keep pressure out of your ears. If none of these work and your ears are still blocked after the plane has landed, see a doctor.

3. Ways to Unplug Ears after Swimming

If your ears become clogged or water logged during swimming, try standing on one foot and tilting your head to that side. Jump up and down while using your forefinger to shake your ear. Repeat this ten times and then repeat this procedure on your other ear. You should feel the water release and flow out of your ear.

4. Ways to Unplug Ears Due to Cold

Colds often lead to sinus congestion, which clog the Eustachian tube. This can be a very painful condition. This tube is connected to the middle ear and the back of your nose.

  • Valsalva Maneuver. Pinch your nose and close your mouth while exhaling. This is the same as the “popping” method referenced above under “alleviating barotrauma.”
  • Decongestant. These will clear out the sinuses and get rid of the clogged feeling.
  • Nasal Spray. These antihistamine sprays are great for alleviating sinus blockage from allergies.
  • Neti Pot. Neti pots use saline solutions to clear clogs. They are a common remedy, but be sure to fully read all directions before use.

5. Things to Avoid

  • Avoid excessive removal of wax and use cotton swabs on the outer ear only.
  • Do not use ear candles as their effectiveness is not proven and refrain from using microsuction or irrigation procedures without first consulting a doctor.
  • If there is an accidental insertion of foreign objects in the ear, do not try to remove them at home. Go to an emergency medical center for immediate care.
  • Do not ignore any signs, no matter how minor, of discomfort if you have had an ear surgery.