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Clogged ears: 5 possible causes and what to do

It is quite common to have clogged ears, especially when you practice diving, go on an airplane, or even travel up a mountain in a car. In these situations, the clogged ear feeling disappears after a few minutes and generally does not indicate any kind of ear problem.  

However, if you have a blocked ear with no apparent cause or if it comes with other symptoms, such as intense itchiness, vertigo or fever, it may mean there is an infection or another problem that needs to be examined by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, for the problem to be treated.

Clogged ears: 5 possible causes and what to do

1. Ear infection

One of the main causes of a blocked ear is ear infection (also known as otitis). This happens because the ear canal is inflamed and prevents sounds from going through to the inner ear, causing the clogged ear feeling.

The most common symptoms of an ear infection, besides a clogged ear, include low fever, redness in the ear, itchiness, and even fluid coming out of the ear. Even though otitis is more common in children, it can happen at any age. 

What to do: the best thing to do is for you to visit an ENT doctor to start the treatment with sprays to decrease inflammation and discomfort. Besides this, it is important to assess if the infection is being caused by bacteria, in which case, antibiotics will be necessary.

2. Earwax build-up

This is another of the most common causes for a clogged ear and it happens when the ear gets physically clogged with earwax. Even though the wax itself is a healthy substance, which is produced by the body to get rid of dirt from the ear canal, if it builds-up excessively, it can cause hearing problems.

Earwax build-up can affect anyone, but it is more common in those who use cotton swabs to clean their ears, as these tend to push the wax further into the ear canal instead of removing it, and this compacts it and stops sound from coming through. 

What to do: to clean earwax that has built-up, we recommend you visit the ENT doctor to have your ear cleaned properly. After this, avoid using cotton swabs.

3. Labyrinthitis

Even though labyrinthitis is rare it is a relatively common ear problem, in which the person feels intense dizziness, as well as a clogged ear. It is also frequent for people with labyrinthitis to hear a ringing or buzzing sound, lose their balance, and lose hearing temporarily. 

Labyrinthitis does not generally have a cure, as it can peak at certain times throughout the years. However, treatment with medication recommended by an ENT doctor can help to relieve symptoms, improving quality of life.

What to do: visit an ENT doctor to identify the cause of the labyrinthitis and start the appropriate medication to relieve symptoms, especially during peaks.

4. Cholesteatoma

This is not a common ear problem but it is one that may happen in people who have recurrent ear infections. Cholesteatoma is an abnormal skin growth inside the ear canal, which causes a cyst and prevents sound from coming through, causing the sensation of a clogged ear. 

What to do: most of the time the ENT doctor will recommend drops to relieve symptoms, but a small surgery may also be necessary to remove the cyst and stop the symptoms permanently. 

5. Ménière’s Disease

This is a relatively rare disease that affects the inner ear and causes symptoms like clogged ears, loss of hearing, dizziness, and constant buzzing. This disease is not known to have a specific cause, but it seems to be more frequent among people between the ages of 20 and 50. 

What to do: as it does not have a specific cause, this disease does not have a cure, but it can be treated with medication recommended by the ENT doctor. This medication will help decrease the symptoms daily, especially dizziness and the sensation of having a clogged ear. 

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