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What Causes a Clogged Ear?

Learn what causes a clogged ear from Ronald A. Hoffman, M.D. in this Howcast video.


One of the common complaints that individuals have is that their ear fills full or clogged, and there are many different causes for this. Probably the most common cause is earwax simply blocking your ear canal, and this is easily enough treated. Your primary care doctor or your internist can often irrigate this out. If it's severely impacted, you can seek a consultation with an ear, nose, and throat specialist who will have more sophisticated tools to remove the wax from your ear. There are preparations over the counter and drug stores as well that allow you to soften the wax and irrigate it.

The second most common cause of a sense of ear fullness is a problem with your middle ear space. The middle ear space contains air, and the air gets in through a tube called the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube connects your middle ear with the back of your nose, and this tube is normally closed. It opens by the actions of the muscles of chewing and swallowing. When you come down in an airplane or an elevator and you yawn or swallow and you ear pops, your ear pops because you are voluntarily opening your Eustachian tube and allowing air into the middle ear.

The lining membrane of that tube, the lining membrane of the Eustachian tube is the same membrane that lines your nose and your sinuses. And, we all know how quickly our nose can swell closed if we get a viral infection or a cold or an allergy, and the same is true of the Eustachian tube. If the lining membrane of the Eustachian tube swells closed, your ear will feel blocked. Treatment for this is the same as the treatment for colds. Decongestants, antihistamines, and nasal sprays.

The third most common cause of a sense of ear fullness is a problem with your inner ear. While the most common symptom of an inner ear problem is hearing loss, and the second most common is a noise or a ringing in your ear, and the third perhaps is dizziness, fourth on that list is a sense of ear fullness. And if you don't have earwax, and if you don't have a problem with your Eustachian tube, then you must have your inner ear evaluated as a possible cause for this ear fullness.

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