Ear blockage or blocked ear is a clogged-like feeling in the ear due to a problem in the external ear canal or the middle ear.
Anatomy of the Ear
consists of the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. The outer ear has the large cartilaginous part called the pinna. The pinna leads into a short canal, at the end of which is the eardrum or tympanic membrane. The eardrum is a thin membrane that separates the external ear from the middle ear. The middle ear contains three small bones which play an important role in the transmission of vibrations from the external to the internal ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose via the Eustachian tube, which helps to equalize the pressure on either side of the eardrum. The inner ear contains the organ for hearing and balance.
What are the Causes of Ear Blockage or Clogged Ear?
A feeling of ear blockage may occur when the external or the middle ear is affected. Causes of ear blockage include:
- Accumulation of wax in the external ear canal: The external ear canal contains several glands which secrete wax or cerumen. The earwax traps dust particles, and later dries and falls off. Excessive wax may result in cerumen impaction and give a blocked feeling.
- Entry of water in the ear: Water may enter the ear during swimming or a shower and may remain inside, giving a clogged feeling.
- Presence of a foreign body or tumor in the ear: Children may put in small nuts or beads into the ear, which may enter the ear canal. Tumors or other growths within the external ear canal may also result in fullness in the ear.
- Infection or inflammation of the external ear canal: Bacteria or fungi can grow in the external ear canal under suitable conditions resulting in acute otitis externa or infection of the external ear canal. A discharge may be noted in such cases.
- Changes in air pressure in the middle ear and the external environment: Changes in air pressure on either side of the eardrum may take place while ascending high altitudes or during a flight. People with a swollen Eustachian tube due to a cold or an allergy may find it more difficult to maintain the air pressure within the middle ear.
What are the Symptoms and Signs of Ear Blockage?
Symptoms of ear blockage usually occur only on the affected side and include:
- Decreased hearing
- Ringing in the ear
- Fever or discharge from the ear in the presence of an infection
- Loss of balance
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
How do you Diagnose Ear Blockage?
Diagnosis of ear blockage is based on medical history obtained from the patient and examination of the ear. The doctor may examine the external ear with an instrument called an otoscope and look out for conditions like foreign body or inflammation.
How do you Treat Ear Blockage?
Treatment of ear blockage depends on the cause.
- If your blocked ear is due to a foreign body, your doctor will remove it with special instruments. A growth or a tumor within the ear canal will have to be surgically removed.
- For earwax, you can try out wax-dissolving eardrops at home to soften the wax so that it can fall off. The doctor may carry out a process of ear irrigation to remove stubborn wax.
- An infection of the external ear may need antibiotic ear drops or oral antibiotics.
- If the Eustachian tube is swollen due to a cold, decongestant nose drops may provide relief. However, avoid the use of the drops for prolonged durations. Steam inhalation may also help in such situations. Your doctor may also prescribe antihistamine or corticosteroid nose drops to provide relief.
- If you have a blocked ear due to changes in air pressure, close your mouth, pinch your nose and breathe out forcefully. The air will enter your middle ear and give a popping feeling and relieve the pressure difference. Repeated yawning could also help in equalizing the pressure on either side of the eardrum.
How do you Prevent Ear Blockage?
Here are some ways in which you can prevent ear blockage:
- Do not put anything into the ears, whether sharp or blunt.
- Suck on a hard candy during ascent and descent while flying. The swallowing movements will prevent ear blockage
- If water enters your ear during swimming, immediately tilt the ear to the affected side so that the water comes out.