Why do my Ears Feel Blocked?

Man holding blocked ear after swimming.

It’s been two days. Your right ear is still totally blocked. You haven’t been able to hear a thing in that direction since yesterday morning. Your left ear is picking up the slack, of course, but only hearing from one direction leaves you feeling off-balance. You thought it might up after a good night’s sleep, but that’s not the case. So will your blocked ear clear up soon?

It most likely won’t be a huge shock to learn that the number one factor in predicting the duration of your blocked ear will be the cause of the blockage. Some blockages subside on their own and somewhat quickly at that; others might linger and require medical intervention.

As a rule of thumb, though, if your blockage lasts much longer than a week, you might want to get some help.

When Does a Blocked Ear Become a Worry?

You will probably begin to think about the reason for your blockage after about two days. You’ll most likely start thinking about what you’ve been doing over the last couple of days: for example, did you somehow get water in your ear?

How about your state of health? Are you suffering from the sort of discomfort and pain (or fever) that might be associated with an ear infection? If that’s the scenario, you might want to schedule an appointment.

Those questions are really just the tip of the iceberg. A clogged ear could have multiple possible causes:

  • Allergies: Fluid production and swelling can develop when the body’s immune system goes to work – as a reaction to an allergic reaction.
  • Variations in air pressure: Occasionally, your Eustachian tube can fail to properly adjust to variations in air pressure, causing the feeling of a temporary blockage in one or both ears.
  • Sinus infection: Sinus infections can cause fluid to accumulate in your ears because your ears, nose and throat are all connected (causing a clog).
  • Earwax Build-up: Earwax can lead to blockages if it’s not effectively draining or if it becomes compressed, hardening in place.
  • Ear Infection: An ear infection can cause inflammation and fluid buildup that eventually blocks your ears.
  • Permanent loss of hearing: Some types of hearing loss feel a lot like a blocked ear. You need to make an appointment if your “clogged ear” lasts longer than it should.
  • Growths: Certain kinds of growths, bulges, and lumps can cause a clogged feeling in your ears (and even impact your hearing).
  • The eustachian tube or ear canal gets water stuck in it: The little places inside the ear are surprisingly good at trapping water and sweat. (Short-term blockage can certainly develop if you sweat heavily).

The Quickest Way to Bring Your Ears Back to Normal

So, if air pressure is the cause, your ears will usually get back to normal within a day or two. You might have to wait for your immune system to start working if your blockage is caused by an ear infection (you may need an antibiotic to get faster relief). And that might take as much as a week or two. Sinus infections have been known to last even longer.

Bringing your ears back to normal as rapidly as possible, then, will usually involve a bit of patience (counterintuitive though it might be), and you need to be able to modify your expectations based on your exact circumstances.

Not doing anything to exacerbate the situation is your most important first step. When your ears start to feel clogged, you may be tempted to pull out the old cotton swab and start trying to physically clean your ears out. This can be a very dangerous strategy (cotton swabs have been the cause of all kinds of problems and complications, from infection to loss of hearing). If you use a cotton swab, you’re more likely to make things worse.

If Your Ear is Still Blocked After a Week…it Could be Hearing Loss

So you may be getting a bit antsy if a couple of days pass and you still have no clue what might be the cause of your blockage. In almost all instances, your blockage will take care of itself after a few days. But it may be, as a basic rule of thumb, a prudent idea to come see us if your blockage persists for more than a week.

Early indications of hearing loss can also feel like blocked ears. And as you most likely know from our other posts, neglected hearing loss can cause other health problems, particularly over time.

Doing no further harm first will give your body a chance to heal and clean that blockage away naturally. But intervention might be needed when those natural means fail. How long that takes will fluctuate depending on the root cause of your blocked ears.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.