Hearing Health Blog

Man holding blocked ear after swimming.

It’s been a couple of days. Your right ear is still totally clogged. You haven’t been able to hear anything in that direction since yesterday morning. You’re left feeling off balance as your left ear works overtime to compensate. It didn’t clear up after a night’s sleep as you hoped it would. So, how long will your blocked ear last?

Exactly how long your blockage will persist depends, not unexpectedly, on what the cause of the blockage is. Some blockages go away by themselves and fairly quickly at that; others could linger and require medical treatment.

You shouldn’t allow your blockage to linger for more than a week, as a rule of thumb, without getting it checked.

When Should I Worry About a Blocked Ear?

If you’re on the second day of a blocked ear, you might start thinking about potential causes. Perhaps you’ll think about your behavior from the last two or three days: were you doing anything that could have led to water getting stuck in your ear, for example?

You may also think about your health. Are you suffering from any symptoms of an ear infection? If that’s the scenario, you may want to make an appointment.

This line of questioning is merely a beginning. A blocked ear could have numerous potential causes:

  • Water stuck in the eustachian tube or ear canal: The little areas in the ear are alarmingly good at capturing water and sweat. (If you often sweat copiously, this can certainly end up temporarily clogging your ears).
  • Ear Infection: Your ear can ultimately become blocked by fluid buildup or inflammation from an ear infection.
  • Air pressure changes: Sometimes, your Eustachian tube can fail to adjust properly to changes in air pressure, creating the feeling of a temporary blockage in one or both ears.
  • Irreversible loss of hearing: Some forms of hearing loss feel a lot like a clogged ear. If your “blocked ear” is lasting longer than it should, you need to get it checked out.
  • Growths: Certain kinds of growths, lumps, and bulges can result in a clogged feeling in your ears (and even impact your hearing).
  • Allergies: Fluid production and swelling can manifest when the body’s immune system kicks in – in response to an allergic reaction.
  • Accumulation of earwax: If earwax gets compressed or is not properly draining it can cause blockages..
  • Sinus infection: Sinus infections can cause fluid to buildup in your ears because your ears, nose and throat are all interconnected (causing a clog).

How to Get Your Ears Back to Normal as Fast as You Can

Your ears will most likely go back to normal after a couple of days if the blockage is caused by air pressure. If an ear infection is behind your blocked ears, you may have to wait until your body gets rid of the virus or bacteria at work (and, if it’s the latter, antibiotics can be very helpful). And that may take as much as a week or two. You might have to wait even longer than that if you have a sinus infection.

A bit of patience will be needed before your ears get back to normal (counterintuitive though it might be), and your expectations should be, well, variable.

Your first and most important job is to not make the situation worse. When you first start to feel like your ears are plugged, it might be tempting to attempt to use cotton swabs to clean them out. All kinds of problems, from ear infections to loss of hearing, can be caused by cotton swabs so this can be a particularly dangerous strategy. If you use a cotton swab, you’re probably going to make the situation worse.

It’s Possible That Your “Blockage” is Hearing Loss

So you might be getting a little antsy if a couple of days go by and you still have no idea what could be causing your blockage. A few days is normally enough time for your body to get rid of any blockage. But the basic rule of thumb is that if things persist for more than a week or so, it may be a good idea to come in for a consultation.

Early signs of hearing loss can also feel like blocked ears. And you shouldn’t ignore hearing loss because, as you’ve most likely read in our other posts, it can result in a whole range of other health issues.

Being cautious not to worsen the issue will normally allow the body to clear up the situation on its own. But when that fails, treatment might be required. How long that takes will fluctuate depending on the underlying cause of your clogged ears.

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