Hearing Health

5 Ways To Unclog Your Plugged Up Ears | Ear Problems

Dr. Cliff Olson
June 15, 2018
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5 Ways To Unclog Your Plugged Up Ears | Ear Problems

Looking for ways to unclog your plugged up ears naturally? Dr. Cliff Olson, Audiologist and founder of Applied Hearing Solutions in Anthem Arizona, discusses 5 tricks that you can use to unclog your ears.

Have you ever had the experience of clogged ears? There are many different reasons that ears get clogged. Here are five natural ways to unclog your ears – and solutions if these do not work for you.

Why Do Ears Get Clogged?

Our ears can get plugged up for a variety of reasons. For one, changing elevations, whether you’re driving in a car through the mountains or you’re in an airplane ascending or descending, could give you the sensation of that your ears are plugged up. Another reason you may feel clogged is if you have a cold or sinus infection, with mucus plugging up your sinuses.

What Is Actually Giving You the Sensation that Your Ears are Clogged?

Our ears are comprised of an outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. Our middle ear is connected to our throat by our Eustachian tube. This tube is responsible for keeping the air pressure in our middle ear equal with the air pressure in the outer ear. If the Eustachian tube does not keep things equal, we have the perception that our ears are clogged.

The simple solution to this problem is to get air to go through our Eustachian tube into our middle ear space to regulate that pressure. Under normal circumstances, our ears will naturally “unclog” just by swallowing. However, when swallowing isn’t enough, you need to use tricks to get air through your Eustachian tube into your middle ear space.

Tricks to Unclog Your Ears

The Valsalva Maneuver

Very simply, the Valsalva Maneuver is when you plug your nose and blow. This causes air to push through your Eustachian tube into your middle ear space and regulate that pressure.

Fun fact: the Valsalva Maneuver was invented in the 1700s by a physician named Antonio Maria Valsalva. This technique was originally conceived as a way to clear pus out of the ears!

The Lowry Method

If the Valsalva Maneuver doesn’t get the job done, you may want to try another method, known as the Lowry Method. With the Lowry Method, you’d do the same steps as the Valsalva Maneuver, but instead of just plugging your nose and blowing, you add a third step: swallowing. In other words, you’d plug your nose, blow, and swallow at the same time. Combined, these three steps could get extra air from your Eustachian tube into your middle ear space.

Fun fact: you can actually close your nose without using your hand by activating your compressor naris muscles. These muscles are activated by “wrinkling your nose as if there were a bad smell.”

Yawning

If you’re not capable of doing the Valsalva Maneuver or the Lowry Method, you can try a simple yawn! When you yawn, it opens up your Eustachian tubes just enough to let some air through.

Fun fact: we don’t just yawn when we’re tired or bored! Though no one knows for sure why we yawn, medical students are commonly taught that “during normal, at-rest breathing, we don’t use anywhere near our lung capacity…if the alveoli don’t get fresh air, they partially collapse and the lungs stiffen a bit. As a result, it’s believed, our brain prompts the body to either sigh or take a yawn to get more air into the lungs”!

Having Someone Blow into Your Nose

Sure, this technique is a little weird, but it could work! You could have someone (that you know and trust) put their lips around your nose, creating a good seal. Then, they would gently blow air into your nose while you swallow. This will force air through the Eustachian tube into the middle ear space.

Fun fact: I don’t really recommend this method because if they blow too hard, it could cause damage!

Use the Eustachi

The Eustachi is a simple product that blows air through your nostril to unclog your Eustachian tubes, while you swallow. You take the hole at the tip of the Eustachi and insert into your nostril and hit a button. When you feel the air traveling into your nostril, you will swallow. This will gently force air through your nostril, down through your throat, and into your Eustachian tubes – and get rid of that clogged sensation.

This is a much safer method than having someone wrap their lips around their nose and blowing!

What if None of These Methods Work?

If you’ve tried all of the above natural methods I’ve recommended and none of them seem to work, your plugged ears could be something a little more serious. Below are a few issues that may be present with your clogged ears.

Earwax

If you have a bunch of earwax in your outer ear plugging up your ear canal, it will give you the sensation of being plugged up. In fact, most people think that this is the original cause of their ears feeling clogged. However, they’ll do some ear washes or go get their ears cleaned out, and then they find that they didn’t have any earwax in there at all – and it was actually a middle ear issue.

Fluid in Your Middle Ear

In this scenario, instead of a negative middle ear pressure, you actually have fluid inside your middle ear that gives you a clogged-up feeling. Every once in a while, that fluid will naturally go away. Sometimes doing the above techniques could get the fluid to go back down through your Eustachian tube and into your throat.

Every once in a while, fluid in your middle ear may require the use of a Pressure Equalization tube that is inserted into your eardrum by an audiologist.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The third possible cause of that clogged-up feeling in your ears is sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). This generally happens in one ear versus the other, and it is a much more serious medical situation than the other two mentioned. SSHL requires that you go into a hearing care professional to get it diagnosed and to receive treatment in the form of steroids or even a steroid injection through your eardrum to stop what is attacking your hearing organ.

Treatment is extremely time sensitive with SSHL, so if you try the above techniques and they do not work, you need to immediately go in to an audiologist to get your hearing tested. If you have sustained SSHL, you need to get treatment immediately.

It is never a good idea to just assume that your clogged ears are due to something simple like unequalized air pressure in your middle ear space. If you’ve tried the above techniques and you’ve tried a Eustachi, and that doesn’t fix the problem, schedule an appointment with an audiologist for treatment.

Video Transcript

Ears can become clogged for a variety of reasons.  Most commonly, this is due to air pressure changes in the environment from changing elevation while driving or flying. However, there are a number of different reasons that your ears can feel clogged including having a sinus infection or something even more serious.  This clogged sensation is often caused by your Eustachian Tube not opening and passing air through to your middle ear space.  This causes a negative pressure that gives you the perception of clogged ears and sometimes pain.  Swallowing typically opens the Eustachian Tube, but doesn't work all of the time. Getting your ears to unclog can be difficult for some individuals.  

Here are 5 ways you can unclog your ears when swallowing isn't enough.

1. Valsalva Maneuver - This is where you simply plug your nose and try to blow air out of it.

2. Lowry Method - This is where you combine the Valsalva Maneuver with swallowing at the same time.

3. Yawning - Sometimes simply yawning will open the Eustachian Tube just enough to let air pass through.

4. Having someone blow in your nose - Forcing air through your nose while swallowing can push air through your Eustachian Tube, however this can be dangerous if a person is doing it...and it's gross!

5. Using the Eustachi - The Eustachi is a tool that gently pushes air through your nostril while you swallow.  This pushes air through the Eustachian Tube gently and can unclog even the most stubborn ears. Eustachi: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Eustachi-E...

If these methods don't work there could be other reasons for your clogged ears.

1. Earwax impaction - This is where earwax plugs up your outer ear.

2. Fluid - If your middle ear is filled with fluid, you may need medical treatment to fix it.  One option is to have Pressure Equalization (PE) tubes inserted into your eardrum.  

3. Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) - This condition is very serious and often only gives the perception of being clogged in one ear.  Treatment of this condition is extremely time sensitive and you should see an Audiologist immediately.

DISCLAIMER: This video and description contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission. This helps support the channel and allows us to continue to make videos like this. Thank you for the support!

Dr. Cliff Olson
Audiologist & YouTuber

Dr. Cliff is an unwavering supporter of Hearing Aid Best Practices and advocate for individuals with hearing loss, which inspired him to develop the Dr. Cliff Approved Provider Network.

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Dr. Cliff Olson

Audiologist & YouTuber