Hearing Blog

Why do my ears feel plugged?

April 19, 2021


If you’ve ever flown, you most likely know the sensation of your ears plugging up. Irritating, right? Here’s why that happens.

The most common reason for ears to feel clogged or plugged is due to something called 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:
The sensation of fullness in the ear
Muffled hearing  
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
Ear infection
Large adenoids
Changes in altitude like when driving in the mountains or flying
Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome

Remedies for plugged ears

Methods for opening the Eustachian Tube, thus relieving clogged or plugged ears, include:
Yawning
Chewing gum
The Toynbee Maneuver (swallowing with the nose pinched shut)
The Valsalva Maneuver (gently blowing the nose with it pinched shut and the mouth closed) 

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. 

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