Plugged Ears and Hearing Difficulties: What You Should Know

Man wincing and holding his hand to his ear.
  • Clogged ears are characterized by a sensation of fullness or pressure in the ear that might feel similar to being underwater.

  • A blocked ear can be caused by several factors, including altitude changes and a buildup of earwax. These factors may also cause temporary hearing difficulties.

  • Blocked ears and the accompanying hearing loss can usually be treated with home remedies if they don’t resolve on their own. However, if your hearing is getting worse or you fail to remove the blockages, you should seek professional medical care.

What Do Plugged Ears Feel Like?

Plugged, clogged, or blocked ears may be experienced as a frustrating or uncomfortable sensation of fullness or pressure in the ear that’s often described as feeling as if you’re underwater.

This sensation may also be accompanied by hearing difficulties or muffled sounds. Some people also experience pain or a ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus.

Blocked ears can cause discomfort and disrupt everyday activities such as communication and concentration.

What Causes a Clogged Ear?

There are a number of reasons why the ears feel clogged, ranging from minor to more severe issues. Let’s take a look at some of the common causes.

Ear wax buildup

One of the most common reasons for a blocked ear is a buildup of wax. Although earwax is naturally produced by the body to protect the ear canal from harmful substances, it may start to accumulate.

When there is excessive earwax in the ear, it can cause blockages that lead to hearing loss and discomfort.

Ear infections

An ear infection — such as otitis media or otitis externa — can also cause blockages.

This is because the inflammation accompanying an infection often leads to swelling in the ear canal that may become an obstruction.

High altitudes

Changes in altitude are another common cause of blocked ears.

When the air pressure outside the ear changes quickly, the pressure inside can’t equalize fast enough.

This causes the eardrum to retract, which may lead to a feeling of fullness and pressure.

Woman sitting on plane and wincing while holding her hands to her ears.

Eustachian tube dysfunction

This develops when the eustachian tube — that connects the middle ear and back of the throat — can’t open or close properly.

This can cause various symptoms, including ear pain and a clogged feeling. In some cases, it can also lead to a build-up of fluid in the middle ear, which increases the risk of infections.


This is a rare but serious condition that occurs when an abnormal growth develops behind the eardrum. The growth can put pressure on the eardrum, causing a blockage to develop. This may also lead to hearing loss and other complications if left untreated.

Why Do Blockages Affect Hearing?

Blockages often obstruct the ear canal, meaning sounds can’t travel to the eardrum. This is what causes a reduction in sound perception, quality, and volume.

Additionally, blockages can also change the pressure within the ear, which can affect the movement of the eardrum and bones in the middle ear.

These bones are responsible for transmitting sound to the inner ear, and disrupting their movement can also cause hearing difficulties.

How Do You Treat Blocked Ears?

The treatment for plugged ears depends largely on the underlying cause of the blockage.

In some cases, the blockage may clear on its own, while other cases may require medical intervention. A few common ways to treat blocked ears include:

  • Earwax removal: If the blockage is caused by a buildup of earwax, it can be removed by a doctor or by using over-the-counter drops. It’s important to avoid attempting to remove the wax by inserting sharp objects or cotton swabs into the affected ear, as this may cause permanent damage and hearing loss.

  • Pop your ears or chew gum: If your blocked ears are caused by air pressure changes, you can use methods like the Valsalva maneuver to ‘pop’ them and restore balance. Chewing gum, swallowing frequently, or taking a deep breath may also have the same effect.

  • Decongestants: If the blockage is caused by a cold or sinus infection, your doctor may recommend nasal decongestants. This may help reduce swelling and congestion that could be causing blockages.

  • OTC medications: Pain and inflammation relievers may also help with clogged ears caused by infections and swelling.

Man putting a piece of chewing gum into his mouth.

Should I Be Worried About Plugged Ears and Hearing Difficulties?

Although blocked ears are usually nothing to worry about and hearing loss is only temporary, it’s important to know when to see a medical professional.

You should make an appointment with your doctor if you fail to unclog your ears with home remedies, especially when clearing a wax buildup.

Your doctor can help you get rid of wax buildup in a way that won’t damage your ears.

If you experience a persistent blockage and continuous hearing loss that seems to get worse, it’s also recommended to see your doctor. This scenario may indicate a more serious problem that requires professional care.

Where Can I Learn More About Plugged Ears and Similar Conditions?

If you’re suffering from blocked ears or are concerned about any of your symptoms, you can speak to a board-certified physician or nurse from the comfort of your home.

Head over to LifeMD to schedule a telehealth appointment.

Guiselly Ezaro-Romero, FNP-C

Guiselly holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Science with a Family Nurse Practitioner concentration. In 2023, she earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice. Guiselly has experience in acute care, long-term care, primary care, and hospice.

Talk To A Doctor

LifeMD makes it easy to stay on top of your health because talking to a doctor, filling your prescriptions, getting your labs done—and more—are all easy and cost-effective. Come discover a healthcare solution built around you and your life.

Connect with a doctor now!

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

Feel better with LifeMD.

Your doctor is online and ready to see you.

Join LifeMD today and experience amazing healthcare, discounted labs and prescription medications... plus around-the-clock access to medical guidance.