Blocked ears or clogged ears, which is common in-flight travelers, is one of the common reasons why most of us dread traveling by a flight. The air pressure not only causes blocked ear but also leads to severe ear pain and discomfort. This debilitating pain coupled with a temporary hearing problem caused after landing when your ear fails to pop can make your journey irksome. While we reveal simple tricks and tips to get rid of blocked ears, we will first explain why do ears pop, causes of clogged ear and how to know if you have a blocked ear.
Why do ears pop — is it normal?
Yes, the popping of the ears is quite normal. It is nothing but a slight click or popping sound that is caused when you swallow. It occurs when a small bubble of air enters the Eustachian tube, which is a thin membrane-lined tube that connects the nose with the middle ear. The air bubble is absorbed by the tube thereby maintaining the pressure in the outer and inner side of the ears. However, when the air pressure is not equal, the pressure on the Eustachian tube increases, which fails to maintain the pressure, leading to blocked ears.
What are the common causes of clogged or blocked ears?
One of the common reasons for blocked ears is pressure in the ears, which is usually seen during air travel. The other possible reasons could be —
-Excessive accumulation of wax in the ear if not cleaned regularly.
-The accidental entry of water in the ear which is common when swimming or taking a bath.
-Changes in altitude which increases the pressure in the ears.
-Infections such as common cold, sinus infection and middle ear infections.
-Inflammation in the ears or allergies which makes you vulnerable to blocked ears.
How to know if you have clogged ears?
Most of us might have experienced one or more of these symptoms that indicate clogging in the ear canal. These are —
-Reduced hearing capability (which is mostly temporary)
-Mild to severe ear pain
-Constant ringing or buzzing sound in the ears
-Itching sensation that persists for a very long time
-The probable feeling of dizziness or heaviness
-Discharge from one or both ears (blood can also be seen in extreme cases)
-A feeling of fluid moving in and around the ears
How to pop your ears?
Be it after flight travel or entry of water while swimming, there are a few simple ways to open up a blocked ear. Here are a few common tricks and tips on how to get rid of blocked or clogged ears.
It is suggested to moisten the sinuses to prevent them from the drying effect of the weather. This can be done by inhaling steam, which helps ease pressure in the ears and clear a clogged ear. While doing so, make sure to add a few drops of essential oils like tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil for quick and effective relief.
The use of saline nasal sprays or nasal drops to clear blocked passages of nose and ear is also quite common. Here’s how to make this home remedy for a blocked nose.
Use half a teaspoon of baking soda and non-iodized salt, add it to a cup of clean boiling water. Mix the solution well, let it cool and transfer the solution to a spray bottle. Use this solution to get rid of blocked nose and ear but remember that the solution stays viable for two days only. You can also use these products commercially available in the market.
3. Valsalva maneuver
This is a blocked ear remedy that you might have come across many times. It is the method of opening nasal and auditory passage by exhalation techniques. In this, a person tries to exhale from the nose, while the mouth is closed, increasing the pressure in the middle ear and chest. To do this, close your mouth and pinch your nose. Try to gently blow the air out through the nose till you hear a pop sound in the ear.
4. Warm compress
If the blocked ear is caused due to dry weather, then this remedy might help. It involves using a warm cloth (dry or wet). All you have to do is put the cloth under the affected ear to unplug them and clear it.
5. Toynbee maneuver
A breathing technique that does help you to get rid of a blocked ear. In this technique, you have to close your mouth and pinch your nostrils together and swallow several times. Since the nostrils are closed, the movement of the tongue compresses the air passing through the tubes of the ear, equalizing the pressure in it, and opening up any blocked passages.
6. Jaw jiggle
If breathing techniques are not your cup of tea, then you can use this simple trick to open a blocked ear. Simply, open your mouth, and jiggle your jaws side-to-side in a quick motion. Continue doing the same until you hear a pop sound in your ear.
It is the technique to exhale out of one of the nostrils to inflate a balloon, while the other nostril and mouth are shut. This increases pressure in the middle ear and chest and helps to pop blocked ear. Place a balloon under one of the nostrils and close the other one. Inhale through the mouth and exhale from the nostril above the balloon. Continue doing the same until the balloon gets completely inflated, after which alternate it with the other nostril.
8. Hopping on foot
A technique you might have seen used mostly by swimmers. This is an effective method for unclogging the ears off the water. Hopping on foot lets the water out, owing to the effect of gravity. Tilt your head to the side where the ear is clogged and stand on that foot. Hop in this posture till the water gets out and you get instant relief. Maintain your balance while doing so as it carries a risk of falling.
9. Chewing gum, yawning and swallowing
A trick that all of us might have tried at least once to prevent blocked ear and get rid of it. Be it chewing gum when on a flight, yawning as the flight is descending or swallowing at regular intervals to prevent clogging of the ears, it does work. These are the most simple and effective methods to pop a plugged ear, especially in case of a change in altitude.
10. Soften ear wax
If ear pain and blocked ear are caused due to excessive accumulation of earwax, then this technique is just for you. Make an ear-wax softener at home by adding a few drops of mineral oil or glycerin in half a cup of warm water. Put a few drops of this solution (after cooling it) in the affected ear while lying down for about 10 minutes. Then flush the ear canal with water and tilt the ear to drain the water out entirely by pulling the ear lobe.
11. Gargling with saline warm water
It is one of the most common and traditional methods to unclog the nasal and ear passages, especially during sinus infection or flu. Simply adding a teaspoon of salt to warm water makes it ready for gargling. The salt water gargling can help to get rid of a blocked ear naturally.
Note: Oils and greasy materials for clearing the ear passages are generally not recommended by practitioners. As these products are sticky in nature which can attract dirt and dust, and thus stimulate its accumulation in the already clogged ears, further worsening the condition.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)