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How to Relieve Plugged Ears

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Jun 10, 2021

How to Relieve Plugged Ears

Do you ever get that feeling in your ears when the sound seems muffled right after a cold? That is an indication that you have a plugged ear. In order for you to know how to open a blocked ear, let us first get to know what it is and why it happens.

What is a Plugged Ear?

Plugged ears happen when the Eustachian tube stays open or closed for a long time. The Eustachian tube is a narrow passage that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose.

Also referred to as auditory tubes, the Eustachian tube opens and closes once or twice every hour to equalize pressure and to drain fluid from the inner ear. Your Eustachian tube also opens and closes when you sneeze, yawn, or swallow.

When the Eustachian tube fails to open or close at the right time, fluid and negative pressure get stuck in the middle ear. As a result of this blockage, you might experience muffled hearing, fullness, and pain in the ear. This condition is called Eustachian Tube Dysfunction.

Your plugged ears will normally go away without any treatments. However, if your auditory tube problems do not go away even with the help of antibiotics, then surgery is needed.

What Causes Plugged Ears?

Since plugged ears is a result of clogged Eustachian tubes, let us see what causes this condition:

Earwax build-up

When your ceruminous glands (glands responsible for earwax production) overproduce earwax (cerumen), it might build up and clog the ear. When you clean your ears using a cotton bud, there is a big possibility that your earwax is pushed deeper into your ear, causing a blockage.

If earwax build-up dries up and hardens, then you are at risk of impaction. Impacted earwax can affect your hearing, and might cause pain.

how to open a blocked ear

Nasal congestion, sinusitis, allergies

When you have colds, sinusitis, or allergies, the mucosal lining of the Eustachian tube swells up. The swelling up causes the blockage.

Ear infection

An ear infection or otitis media causes an increased production of fluid inside the ear where viruses or bacteria will start to multiply. When this happens, you might feel ear pain as well as the feeling of plugged ears.

Enlarged Adenoids

Adenoids are part of the immune system that can be found at the back of the throat just behind the nasal cavity. This mass of tissue keeps the body safe and healthy by trapping germs coming from the mouth and nose.

Enlarged adenoids are more common in children than adults. When a child has enlarged adenoids, it might cause blockage in the nose and the ears. The swollen adenoids hinder the draining of excess fluid in the middle ears, thus, making the ears plugged.

Colds and infections are the common causes of why adenoids become swollen.

Changes in altitude

Changes in altitude causes clogged ears because of the imbalance of pressures on both sides of the ear drum, causing it to be sucked inwards like what a vacuum does.

If you go to high places, such as mountains, skyscrapers, and if you are on board a plane, or diving in deep waters, you may experience plugged ears due to changes in altitude.

The changes in altitude can cause pain, muffled hearing, and the feeling of stuffiness in the ear.


The common symptoms of a blocked  Eustachian tube include:

  • Muffled hearing
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Pain in one or both ears
  • Hearing popping or ringing sounds in the ears
  • Sometimes dizziness or difficulty in keeping balance

Types of Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know


There are several ways on how to open a blocked ear, here are some of them:

  • Try yawning, swallowing, or chewing a piece of gum to unblock your Eustachian tube.
  • Do the Valsalva maneuver by closing your mouth and gently blowing your nose while pinching it.
  • Another way on how to open a blocked ear is by doing the Toynbee maneuver. All you need to do is swallow while pinching your nose shut.

You do these simple steps to equalize the pressure on both sides of the ear. If you hear a popping sound, then you have successfully opened your blocked ear.

When experiencing colds, allergies, and, ear infection, your doctor might prescribe these medications:

  • Nasal or oral decongestant
  • Steroid nasal spray or corticosteroid nasal spray
  • Antibiotics

When Would You Need Surgery?

Your condition may require surgery if there is fluid build-up in the middle ear. Procedures include:

  • Myringotomy. It is a surgical procedure where doctors make a tiny incision in the eardrum to suction and drain any fluid build-up in the middle ear.
  • Pressure Equalization Tubes (ear tubes). Ear tubes are made out of tiny cylindrical metal or plastic. These tubes are surgically placed into the eardrum. Ear tubes provide ventilation in the middle ear as well as prevent fluid retention in the middle ear.

Before going taking or doing any medications and procedures, make sure to consult a doctor to know which of the treatments can help open up your blocked ear.


To avoid having clogged Eustachian tubes, you first need to determine and treat the underlying conditions that have been causing your plugged ears. Here’s what you need to do:

  • If you have colds, allergies, and other nasal problems, try asking your doctor for medications that can help decongest your nose.
  • Chew gum or swallow frequently during a flight.
  • Refrain from air travels when experiencing colds, allergies, flu, and other nasal conditions.
  • Avoid cleaning your ears aggressively. Use the right ear cleaning tool or use cotton buds correctly.
  • Remember to take your medications, so your underlying conditions will not lead to Eustachian tube blockage.

Key Takeaways

Plugged ears can be annoying, especially if you are traveling. This condition may disrupt your enjoyment during a vacation or can lessen your productivity. However, there are ways and treatments to open a blocked ear, so you can restore the overall health of your ears.

Remember to take immediate action when feeling sick to avoid plugged ears from occurring. And keep in mind to consult your doctor for any questions and medical advice.

Learn more about Ear, Nose & Throat conditions here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Jun 10, 2021

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