Why Do My Ears Feel Clogged? 7 Common Causes and Home Remedies

Have you ever experienced that feeling of fullness in your ears, like they need to pop? It can be uncomfortable and annoying when it feels like your ears are plugged up. But what causes this clogged ear sensation, and what can you do about it?

In this post, we’ll explore the 7 most common reasons for clogged ears and simple home remedies to relieve the congestion. Read on to learn what’s behind that stuffed up feeling, and actionable tips to get your ears unclogged fast!

What Causes That Clogged Ear Feeling?

Before jumping into the remedies, let’s look at some of the main culprits behind clogged ears:

1. Earwax Buildup

Earwax, known medically as cerumen, is produced by glands in the ear canal. It serves to lubricate and protect the ear.

But sometimes earwax can accumulate and harden, causing a blockage. Using cotton swabs to clean your ears actually pushes wax deeper into the ear canal.

Earwax buildup is one of the most common reasons for clogged ears. Luckily, it’s usually easy to treat at home. We’ll cover some home remedies for impacted earwax coming up.

2. Swollen Eustachian Tubes

The eustachian tubes connect your middle ear to the back of your throat. Their job is to equalize pressure between your ears and the outside world.

When the eustachian tubes get inflamed or swollen, it can make your ears feel clogged. Colds, sinus infections, allergies, and other respiratory illnesses are common culprits.

3. Hearing Loss

A clogged ear sensation can actually be a symptom of hearing loss. As we age, our ability to hear high frequencies gradually diminishes.

This high-frequency hearing loss can make it feel like the ears are plugged, especially if it occurs in just one ear. See your doctor to get a hearing test if you suspect age-related hearing loss.

4. Changes in Altitude or Air Pressure

Have you ever experienced ear discomfort when flying or driving through mountains? The reason is shifts in altitude and air pressure.

As the air pressure changes, the eustachian tubes must work to equalize the pressure between the middle ear and outside. If they can’t keep up, it leads to clogged ears.

This is also why scuba divers must equalize as they descend into deeper water. Chewing gum or yawning can help pop your ears.

5. Fluid Trapped in the Ear

Fluid and mucus can occasionally get trapped in the middle ear. This clogs the ear and dampens hearing.

Colds, the flu, sinus infections, and allergies are common causes of fluid buildup in the ear. This temporary blockage usually clears up as the illness resolves.

6. Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever, can also contribute to clogged ears. It causes inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages and eustachian tubes.

Common allergens like pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold trigger the allergic reaction. Talk to your doctor about allergy treatment if you suspect this.

7. Ear Infections

Ear infections are a common cause of clogged ears in children. However, adults can get them too.

Fluid and pressure buildup in the middle ear from a bacterial or viral infection leads to clogged ears. Ear infections often arise during or after a cold.

See your doctor if you think you have an ear infection, as antibiotics may be needed to clear it up.

When to See a Doctor About Clogged Ears

In many cases, clogged ears can be treated at home without needing to see a doctor. But it’s important to know when to seek medical care.

See your doctor if you experience:

  • Clogged ears that persist despite home treatment
  • Fever
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Loss of hearing
  • Severe ear pain
  • Dizziness or loss of coordination
  • Clogged feeling in only one ear
  • Strange discharge from the ear

These symptoms could signal an ear infection or other condition requiring medical treatment. It’s better to be safe and get it checked out.

7 Home Remedies to Relieve Clogged Ears

For mild, temporary ear congestion, try one of these home remedies:

1. Steam

Inhaling steam helps open the eustachian tubes by thinning mucus and reducing swelling.

Run a hot shower and breathe in the steam. Or boil a pot of water, drape a towel over your head, and breathe in the vapors.

You can also use a humidifier. The moisture loosens congestion caused by colds, allergies, or sinus troubles.

2. Saltwater Gargle

Gargling with salt water can help clear excess mucus from the nose and ears. The salt works as an anti-inflammatory while the water washes away mucus.

To make a saltwater gargle at home, stir 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt into a glass of warm water until dissolved. Take a mouthful of the solution and gargle for 30 seconds before spitting it out.

Repeat gargling 2-3 times per treatment. Do this 2-3 times per day to thin mucus and relieve sinus pressure that can lead to clogged ears.

3. Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a natural disinfectant that can help remove earwax and debris clogging the ear canal.

Mix a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and warm water. With your head tilted, use an eyedropper to put 2-3 drops of the solution into your clogged ear.

Let it bubble for about 10 minutes before tilting your head in the opposite direction to drain. Rinse your ear with warm water after. Be careful not to use hydrogen peroxide too often, as it can irritate the sensitive skin of the ear canal.

4. Over-the-Counter Ear Drops

There are many over-the-counter ear drops formulated to soften earwax and unclog ears. Brands like Debrox, Murine Ear Wax Removal System, and Similasan are available at any drugstore.

Always follow the directions on the packaging. Usually you'll need to use the drops 2-3 times per day for 3-4 days to fully clear clogged ears. Don't use ear drops for more than 4 consecutive days without consulting your doctor.

5. Oil Drops

Oil helps naturally break up earwax and wax buildup. Oils like olive, mineral, or baby oil work well and are safe for ear health.

Apply 2-3 drops of warm (not hot) oil into your clogged ear. Keep your head tilted for about 10-15 minutes to let the oil penetrate. Then tilt in the opposite direction to drain. Repeat once daily for 2-3 days.

6. Warm Compress

Applying a warm compress to the affected ear can open up the eustachian tubes and promote drainage. The warmth also loosens up congestion.

Soak a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring it out so it doesn’t drip. Hold the warm compress over your ear for 5-10 minutes as needed to relieve pressure.

7. Over-the-Counter Medications

Oral decongestants and antihistamines can help dry up excess fluid and mucus causing clogged ears, especially if due to allergies or a cold.

Decongestant options include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and phenylephrine (Sudafed PE). Antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and fexofenadine (Allegra) can also provide relief for some.

Always follow dosing instructions on the label. And see your doctor if symptoms persist beyond 3-4 days.

When to See a Doctor About Clogged Ears

While home remedies can provide relief for temporary clogged ears, it's important to see a doctor if symptoms persist or worsen.

See your doctor promptly if you experience:

  • Clogged feeling that lasts over a week
  • Fever over 101°F
  • Yellow, brown, or bloody discharge
  • Sudden hearing loss or ringing (tinnitus)
  • Severe pain
  • Dizziness, vertigo, or loss of balance
  • Facial muscle weakness
  • Ear pain that worsens when chewing

These may indicate an ear infection or other condition requiring medical treatment. It’s always better to be safe and get severe or persistent clogged ears checked out.


That clogged ear feeling can be annoying and uncomfortable. In many cases, it resolves on its own or with simple home treatments like steam, saltwater gargles, eardrops and more.

But if your clogged ears persist or you experience other worrisome symptoms, see your doctor promptly. They can determine if there’s an underlying infection or condition causing your symptoms.

With the right treatment, whether at-home remedies or medical care, you’ll be hearing clearly again in no time!