A blocked ear might not cause you much pain, but it can be very annoying if your hearing is muffled, or you have to strain to hear. Depending on what’s caused the blockage, it will usually sort itself out on its own, but here are a few things you should know about if your ear feels blocked.
What’s blocking your ear?
There are a few things that can make your ear feel clogged:
- Air pressure: if you’ve ever been scuba diving, on an aeroplane or at a higher altitude than you’re used to, you might have noticed your ear feels blocked. This is because your Eustachian Tube is responsible for controlling the pressure in your middle ear, but it can struggle to do this properly when the air pressure changes quickly
- Eustachian tube blockage: At any given time, there will be fluid and mucus flowing from your middle ear, through your Eustachian tube to your throat. This is completely normal. But, if there is too much fluid – because of an ear infection or sinus infection, for example – the tube can become blocked and give your ear that clogged feeling
- Earwax: a build-up of earwax can also give you the feeling of a clogged ear, usually because it has hardened and gotten stuck. You can also give yourself a blocked ear by using cotton buds to ‘clean’ your ears – which is why you should never do it!
If you think earwax is blocking your ear, get it checked out by one of our audiologists
Will a clogged ear go away by itself?
Often, yes. Occasionally though, if your blocked ear is caused by earwax you might need to see an audiology professional to have it treated.
If earwax has caused the blockage, you can have your earwax removed by one of our trained audiologists. If it’s caused by a blockage in your middle ear such as a cold, your GP will be able to refer you to a specialist ear doctor who will recommend the best course of action.
How do you clear a blocked ear?
If your ear feels blocked because of a change in air pressure, you can do what’s called the Valsalva. To do it, take a deep breath in then pinch your nose, before exhaling gently with your mouth closed. This can help create the pressure you need to feel your ear ‘pop’ or unclog it. Make sure you don’t blow out too hard though, to avoid damaging your eardrum.
If your ear feels clogged because you’ve recently had a cold, allergies, an ear infection or anything else that may have caused a fluid build-up, you can try using steam to clear the blockage. You could sit in the bathroom for 10-15 minutes with the shower turned up hot. The steam should help loosen the mucus enough for your body to clear the fluid naturally.
When earwax is blocking your ear, you need to have it checked out by a professional. If you try to remove the blockage on your own, you can risk causing more damage to your ear, including impacting the wax making it harder to dislodge.
Are blocked ears and ear pain linked to COVID-19?
There are many reasons why your ears may be blocked or you might develop ear pain, and the majority of the time this won’t be related to COVID-19. It is important to remember that blocked ears and ear pain are common and can be a side effect of many common colds and viruses.
Are blocked ears a symptom of COVID-19?
Blocked ears are not currently identified as a common symptom of COVID-19 by the NHS, but some ‘hearing issues’ have been identified as a symptom of long COVID by the WHO.¹ Because blocked ears aren’t mentioned specifically if this is the only symptom you are experiencing — it’s unlikely that you have COVID-19.
The sensation of blocked ears can be caused by a number of things. One common cause is impacted earwax. If you are also having difficulty hearing or find your ears are itchy, then you may have a build-up of earwax. Learn more about impacted earwax here and find out whether you need to book an earwax removal appointment.
Worried about whether ear popping is a sign of COVID-19? Read about ear popping here.