Blocked ears

While not always painful, ear blockages can be a nuisance and straining to hear is likely to have a negative effect on your daily life. 

If you do have concerns with your hearing, book your free hearing check with one of our experts at a Boots store near you.
Boots Hearingcare takes a look at some of the symptoms of ear blockage, how it’s caused and the most effective treatment options available.

In this article:

Blocked ear symptoms
Blocked ear causes
Blocked ear treatment
When to see a doctor

Blocked ears causes

There are several reasons why you may be experiencing an ear blockage. Identifying the root cause of the problem is essential in determining the best course of treatment. 

Ear infection (Otitis media)

As the middle ear is a sensitive area, an ear infection is often painful. This condition occurs when fluid gets trapped behind the eardrum, causing a blockage or feeling of fullness in the ear. 

Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD)

Normally caused by allergies, colds or infections, Eustachian tube dysfunction is a relatively common condition that occurs when the Eustachian tubes, the small tubes that connect your upper throat to your ears, get ‘plugged’ or blocked. As well as a blocked ear and a feeling of fullness, other symptoms may include dulled hearing, ear pressure and crackling or popping sounds.

Earwax blockage

A buildup of earwax is a common cause of ear blockage. Generally, when earwax is produced, it is pushed towards the outer ear. If this wax builds up, it can harden and cause blockages, earaches or infections. 

Swimmer’s ear

For those suffering from swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, a clogged or full feeling is generally the first symptom. The condition usually occurs when there is an infection or inflammation brought on by water being trapped in the ear canal. 

Ear pressure

A rapid change or build up of pressure in the ear, caused by either sinus problems, blocked Eustachian tubes or high altitude, can cause your ear to feel clogged or blocked.

Blocked ear treatment

Treatment for a blocked ear depends entirely on the cause of the issue and the individual. In many cases, the symptoms will disappear on their own. However, if you do need treatment, the following will usually help:

  • Over-the-counter medicines: from ear medication designed to reduce swelling and inflammation to nasal decongestants and cold and flu tablets. There is a range of medication available to help you alleviate symptoms. 
  • At-home treatments: other treatments such as a warm compress or using steam can help to unclog your ears.
  • Medical treatments: if your blockage is due to a buildup of wax, we offer ear wax removal services to help relieve discomfort and pain.

It’s important to remember that if you are suffering from a blocked ear, you should never use your finger, or insert objects such as cotton buds into the ear canal, as this can exacerbate the situation.

When to see a doctor

While some causes of ear blockage will resolve themselves on their own, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor, especially if the congestion lasts more than a couple of weeks.

Frequently asked questions

Can blocked ears cause headaches?

Yes - if the blockage is due to ear pressure, it may cause headaches but these are usually mild.

Can blocked ears cause dizziness?

Balance for your body is regulated in the inner ear. When your ear is blocked, there can be some difficulty in equalising pressure, causing dizziness.

Can blocked ears cause tinnitus?

While prolonged exposure to loud sounds is usually one of the main triggers of tinnitus, a small blockage in the ear can also lead to the condition.

Can a blocked ear cause eye problems?

A lot of people aren’t aware that the inner ear and the muscles that move the eyes are connected. It’s entirely possible therefore, that if the cause of your blockage is linked to your inner ear, your eyesight will be affected.

If you’re worried, contact your doctor or optometrist to book an appointment.

How long does a blocked ear last for?

It all depends on the cause of the blockage, but generally, if it’s caused by something as simple as water or air pressure, it should clear quickly. For more serious problems, such as infections, it can take a few weeks to return to normal.

Can blocked ears affect taste?

While it is uncommon, if your ear blockage is caused by an inner ear infection, your sense of taste may be affected.

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