Our Hearing Aid Blog

Clearing Blocked Ear: Safe and Effective Methods

by Hear Clear on Dec 13, 2023

a woman covering her ears with her hands

Whether it's due to congestion from a cold, an earwax build-up, or other causes, experiencing a blocked ear can be both uncomfortable and worrying - but in most cases, there’s a totally benign reason behind it. But what can you actually do about it?

In this comprehensive guide, we’re going to take a look at why blocked ears occur, while offering some effective remedies and techniques to clear them, from simple home practices to professional interventions. Let’s get started!

Understanding Blocked Ears

Before we take a look at some helpful remedies, it's first important to understand what causes ears to become blocked. Common causes include:

Earwax Build-up

Natural and usually beneficial, earwax can sometimes accumulate excessively within the ear, especially if you don’t regularly clean out your ears. If enough wax builds up, this can lead to temporary - but usually harmless - blockages.

Congestion from Colds or Allergies

Who amongst us has never had a blocked ear during a cold? Stuffy ears is actually incredibly common if you’re under the weather; this is because swelling and mucus production from colds or allergies can block the Eustachian tube, leading to an irritating feeling of fullness in the ear.


In some rarer cases, ear infections can cause fluid build-up and swelling, resulting in blocked sensations. Ear infections can get pretty nasty and painful if untreated, so always see your doctor if you’re experiencing blocked ears alongside pain, redness, and a temperature.

Atmospheric Pressure Changes

Blocked ears is one of the biggest annoyances when flying - aside from crying babies and airplane food, of course! Blocked ears tend to occur when flying due to sharp changes in atmospheric pressure, but it’s usually nothing to worry about and will go away when you land.

Using Hearing Aids in Blocked Ear Situations

If you improve your hearing with the help of hearing aids, you’ll also want to ensure that your hearing aid device isn't contributing to the blockage. Regular cleaning and maintenance of your device are key, and if you do suspect that your blocked ear is being caused by your hearing aid, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor or an ear specialist for tailored advice. It could be something as simple as the size of your hearing aid, or an infection caused by an unclean device.

Safe Home Remedies

olive oil in a small transparent bowl

If you’ve ruled out any serious problems causing your ear blockage, there are a number of safe and effective home remedies that can help:

  • Warm Compress: If you have a cold, applying a warm compress can help to reduce congestion, in turn easing the blockage.
  • Olive Oil or Over-the-Counter Ear Drops: If a buildup of earwax is to blame, a few drops of warm olive oil or over-the-counter ear drops can soften it, making it easier to remove. For those who prefer natural home methods, this is an NHS-approved blocked ear remedy!
  • Valsalva Maneuver: This one is slightly uncomfortable, but often works! Try gently blowing your nose with your nose pinched; this can help equalize pressure in the ears, and can be useful in situations where atmospheric pressure changes have caused a blocked ear.

How to Unclog Ears from Congestion?

If you’re under the weather and wondering how to unblock ears from a cold, the best way is to decongest. You can do this via inhaling steam, using over-the-counter sprays, and making sure that you’re staying hydrated.

NOTE: It's always important to approach these home remedies with caution, especially if you're unsure about the cause of the blockage. If your ear blockage is accompanied by other symptoms like pain, redness or a temperature, you’ll need to consult a doctor for an examination.

Professional Intervention

When home remedies don't suffice, or if you're dealing with persistent or severe blockage, seeking professional medical advice is highly recommended. Ear blockages that are left untreated can sometimes lead to complications like hearing loss or infections, so here's when and why you should consider professional intervention:

  • Persistent Blockage: If your symptoms don't improve with home remedies, it's time to see a healthcare professional.
  • Signs of Infection: Symptoms like pain, discharge, or fever tend to indicate that you might have an ear infection, and you’ll need to see a doctor for this as you may need antibiotics to clear it up.
  • Impact on Hearing: If you experience a noticeable hearing loss - especially if it’s just in the one ear or occurs after physical trauma to the area - always consult a doctor to prevent long-term damage.

Preventing Future Blockages

Like with anything related to our bodies and their functions, prevention is always better than the cure. Here are some tips to help prevent future ear blockages:

Regular Cleaning

Cleaning your ears regularly can help prevent wax build up, but make sure to avoid inserting anything into the ear canal (such as cotton swabs) which can push wax further in. You can even go to your local GP for an ear cleaning, but it might be difficult to get regular appointments.

Stay Hydrated

While it might sound cliché, stay hydrated! If you have a cold or you’re suffering from allergies, adequate hydration can help thin out any mucus build-up associated with colds and allergies, preventing it from blocking your ears.

Manage Allergies

If you're prone to allergies, managing them effectively can reduce the risk of ear blockages. Some doctors may be able to provide you with a prescription for antihistamines or recommend other over-the-counter products that can keep symptoms at bay when the seasons change.

Mind the Pressure

When flying or diving, use techniques like yawning or swallowing to equalize ear pressure and avoid blockages. You can also try sucking on boiled sweets, but these do pose a choking hazard to children, so keep them for the adults only.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! While some ear blockages can be fixed with at-home remedies (or simply waiting out an annoying cold!) we’d always recommend speaking to your GP if your symptoms continue or don’t improve with time.