The Eustachian tube connects the ears to the back of the nose. This can become blocked by a cold or allergy. Severe cases should be treated by an ENT specialist. But a mild case can be remedied at home with home remedies, over-the-counter remedies, or prescription medications.
Method 1 of 2: Clearing a clogged ear at home
Step 1. Recognize the symptoms
Whether it's a cold, allergy or infection, when the Eustachian tube swells it gets blocked and air can't get in. This changes the pressure and sometimes fluid can build up in the ear. If that happens, you will experience the following symptoms:
- Earache, or a "full" feeling in the ear
- Whooping or clicking sounds or sensations that don't seem to come from outside
- Children sometimes describe it as a "tickling" feeling
- Difficulty hearing well
- Dizziness and difficulty maintaining balance
- Symptoms may worsen if you change altitude quickly - such as when you're flying, in an elevator, or driving in the mountains
Step 2. Wiggle your jaws
This simple trick is called the Edmonds technique. Just stick your jaw forward and wiggle it front to back and side to side. If the ear blockage is only mild, this maneuver can open the Eustachian tube again, returning air pressure to normal.
Step 3. Do the Valsalva maneuver
This maneuver, where you force air through the blocked ear canal to restore airflow, must be performed very carefully. If you blow through the blocked ear canal, the air pressure in your body is affected. The sudden airflow can cause a rapid change in your blood pressure and heart rate.
- Take a deep breath and hold your breath with your mouth closed and your nose pinched.
- Now try to blow out air through your closed nostrils.
- If the maneuver is successful, you will hear a popping sound in your ears, and the symptoms will disappear.
Step 4. Try the Toynbee technique
Like the Valsalva maneuver, the Toynbee technique aims to open the Eustachian tube. But instead of having the patient change the pressure by breathing, the pressure is adjusted by swallowing. To perform this technique, do the following:
- Pinch your nose.
- Take a sip of water.
- Repeat this process until you feel your ears pop and open.
Step 5. Blow up a balloon with your nose
It may feel silly and it may look weird, but this, also known as the Otovent technique, can effectively restore pressure in your ears. Buy an "Otovent balloon" on the Internet. It is a normal balloon, but the nozzle fits exactly in your nose. If you have another nozzle that fits exactly in the opening of the balloon, and can go in your nose, you can also make an Otovent balloon yourself.
- Put the nozzle in one nostril and close the other nostril with your finger.
- Try to inflate the balloon through one nostril until it is the size of a fist.
- Repeat the process with your other nostril. Repeat until you hear a popping sound and air can flow back into the Eustachian tube.
Step 6. Swallow with your nose closed
This is also called the Lowery maneuver, and it's harder than it looks. Before swallowing, build up pressure in your body by straining as if you were pooping. When you hold your breath and close your nose, it feels like you want to squeeze air out of all your openings. Some people find it difficult to swallow under these circumstances, due to the increased pressure on the body. But be patient and persevere. If you practice enough, your ears may pop open.
Step 7. Put something warm on your ear
This can ease the pain and clear the blockage. The warmth of a warm compress can clear the blockage and open the Eustachian tube. If you are using a hot water bottle, place a cloth between the water bottle and your skin so you don't burn yourself.
Step 8. Use a nasal spray for a stuffy nose
Ear drops will not clear the blockage, because the ear is closed. But because the nose and ears are connected by tubes, a nasal spray can be effective in clearing a blocked Eustachian tube. Hold the bottle of nasal spray so that it points through your nostril toward the back of your throat, almost perpendicular to your face. While applying the spray, sniff hard enough to move the liquid to the back of your throat, but not so hard that you swallow it or get it in your mouth.
After administering the nasal spray, try one of the techniques to equalize the pressure. Maybe it works more effectively now
Step 9. Take antihistamines if the problem is caused by an allergy
While antihistamines do not normally help to open a blocked Eustachian tube, it can clear up an allergy blockage. Talk to your doctor about whether this is a good option for you.
Note that antihistamines are usually not recommended for people with ear infections
Method 2 of 2: Get medical help
Step 1. Ask your doctor to prescribe a nasal spray
While you can try a regular nasal spray from the drugstore first, a prescription drug may work better. If you have an allergy, ask your doctor for a nasal spray containing steroids or antihistamines.
Step 2. Take antibiotics if you have an ear infection
Although a blocked Eustachian tube is usually short-lived and harmless, it can lead to a painful ear infection. If your clogged ear seems to be progressing in that direction, contact your doctor to ask for antibiotics. Your doctor may not prescribe it until you have a fever of 39ºC or higher, or if it lasts longer than 48 hours.
For the dosage, follow the instructions in the package insert. Finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if the symptoms seem to pass before you're done
Step 3. Talk to your doctor about myringotomy
In severe cases of blockage, your doctor may recommend surgical treatment to restore airflow to the middle ear. Two types of surgery are possible, and myringotomy is the fastest option. The doctor makes a small incision in the eardrum, and then sucks out fluid that is in the middle ear. It may seem unnatural, but that indentation needs to heal as slowly as possible. If the incision is left open long enough, the Eustachian tube swelling will slowly subside. If it heals too quickly (within 3 days), fluid can build up again in the middle ear, causing the symptoms to persist.
Step 4. Consider having tubes placed
This surgery has a greater chance of success, but it is a lengthy process. As with myringotomy, the doctor makes an incision in the eardrum and aspirates the fluid from the middle ear. The doctor then inserts a small tube into the eardrum to better ventilate the middle ear. As the eardrum heals, the tube is pushed out, but this may take 6 to 12 months. This method is recommended for patients who have chronic Eustachian tube problems, so discuss the option with your doctor.
- If you have tubes in your ears, you should always completely protect your ears from water. Use earplugs or cotton wool when you shower, and use special earplugs when you go swimming.
- If water runs through the tubes in the middle ear, you can get an ear infection.
Step 5. Treat the underlying cause
A blocked Eustachian tube is often the result of a condition that causes mucus and tissue swelling. The most common causes for mucus and swelling to form are colds, flu, sinus infections and allergies. Don't let these conditions get out of hand and cause problems with your ears. Treat the flu and cold right away as soon as you get symptoms, and talk to your doctor if you have frequent sinus infections or allergies.
- If you know there is fluid in your ears, do not use products to remove wax. They can cause infections, and there's no point in using them because they're moisture, not earwax.
- Do not lie flat if you have an earache.
- Drink warm drinks such as tea rather than cold water.
- Try breaking chewable papaya tablets in your mouth. Papain, the active ingredient in papaya, is a good expectorant. You can also try fenugreek.
- Use an extra pillow to keep your head higher. Then the liquid can get out more easily and it hurts less when you sleep.
- If your blocked ears hurt, you can take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve the pain.
- Wear a hat to keep your ears warm. Then moisture can get out more easily while you're just doing other things.
- Do not use nasal spray for more than a few days, as it can cause more congestion than it clears. If the spray doesn't help, see your doctor.
- Do not rinse your ears with a nasal can and do not use ear candles. These products have not been scientifically studied whether it is safe to open your ears with them.
- Do not dive if you have problems with your Eustachian tube. This can be very painful because the pressure is not balanced.