All Ears: Why do my ears sometimes feel clogged or plugged?

The most common cause for ears to feel clogged or plugged is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (Eustachian is pronounced “You-Station”). The Eustachian tube connects the back of the nose to the middle ear and serves to protect, ventilate and drain the middle ear when necessary to keep the air pressure equal on both sides of the eardrum. It is normally closed, but opens when we chew, swallow or yawn.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) occurs when something prohibits the Eustachian Tube from opening and closing. Symptoms of ETD can include a sensation of fullness in the ear, muffled hearing and/or discomfort created by a difference in air pressure between the ear canal and the middle ear space. 

Causes of plugged ears

There are multiple causes for Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: earwax, congestion from a cold, allergies or sinusitis, an ear infection, large adenoids, changes in altitude like when driving in the mountains or flying, or even Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome. 

Why do my ears feel so plugged up?

Symptoms and remedies for plugged ears 

Symptoms of ETD include aural fullness, muffled hearing and/or discomfort. Yawning, chewing gum, the Toynbee Maneuver (swallowing with the nose pinched shut), and the Valsalva Maneuver (gently blowing the nose with it pinched shut and the mouth closed) are all methods for opening the Eustachian Tube. The goal is to allow the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum to equalize. If you hear a popping noise or experience a popping sensation, you have been successful in getting the Eustachian Tubes to open.  

If ETD persists for a few days or is accompanied by other symptoms such as sudden changes in hearing, tinnitus, dizziness, vertigo, pain, fever, or drainage from the ear, you should see a physician as soon as possible for evaluation and treatment. 

For more information regarding issues around hearing, consult with a hearing professional near you. To find one, call 1-888-908-1845 or click here.


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By Andrea Hannan Dawkes, Au.D.