Man holding blocked ear after swimming.

It’s now been a couple of days. Your right ear is still completely blocked. You haven’t been able to hear anything on that side since yesterday morning. You’re left feeling off balance as your left ear works overtime to pick up the slack. It didn’t clear up after a night’s sleep as you were hoping it would. So will your blocked ear improve soon?

It most likely won’t be a huge surprise to find out that the single biggest variable in predicting the duration of your clogged ear is the cause of the obstruction. Some blockages recede on their own and rather quickly at that; others could linger and call for medical intervention.

As a general rule, however, if your blockage lasts for any longer than one week, you might want to get some help.

When Should I Worry About a Clogged Ear?

If you’re on the second day of a blocked ear, you may start thinking about potential causes. You’ll probably start thinking about your activities for the last couple of days: for instance, did you somehow get water in your ear?

You might also think about your health. Are you experiencing the kind of pain or discomfort (or fever) that could be associated with an ear infection? If that’s the scenario, you may want to make an appointment.

This line of questioning is only a beginning. There are plenty of possible causes for a blocked ear:

  • Allergies: Swelling and fluid production can manifest when the body’s immune system kicks in – as a reaction to an allergic reaction.
  • Permanent loss of hearing: A clogged ear and some kinds of permanent hearing loss can feel surprisingly similar. If your “blocked ear” is persisting longer than it should, you need to get it examined.
  • Ear Infection: An ear infection can bring about fluid buildup and inflammation that eventually blocks your ears.
  • Changes in air pressure: If the pressure in the air changes abruptly, your eustachian tube can fail to compensate which can temporarily cause obstruction.
  • Growths: Some types of growths, bulges, and lumps can result in a blocked feeling in your ears (and even impact your hearing).
  • Sinus infection: Sinus infections can produce fluid buildup in your ears because your ears, nose and throat are all interconnected (causing a clog).
  • Accumulation of earwax: If earwax gets compressed or is not properly draining it can cause blockages..
  • Water stuck in the eustachian tube or ear canal: The tiny areas in the ear are alarmingly efficient at capturing sweat and water. (If you often sweat copiously, this can certainly end up clogging your ears temporarily).

The Quickest Way to Get Your Ears Back to Normal

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 might have to wait until your body fights off the virus or bacteria at work (and, if it’s the latter, antibiotics can really help). This could take up to a couple of weeks. You might have to wait even longer than that if you have a sinus infection.

Getting your ears back to normal as quickly as you can, then, will normally involve a bit of patience (counterintuitive though it may be), and your expectations need to be, well, adjustable.

Not doing anything to aggravate the situation is your most important first step. When you first start to feel like your ears are blocked, it might be tempting to attempt to use cotton swabs to clean them out. All sorts of problems, from ear infections to loss of hearing, can be caused by cotton swabs so this can be an especially dangerous approach. You will probably worsen the situation if you use cotton swabs.

If Your Ear is Still Blocked After a Week…it Could be Hearing Loss

So you may be getting a bit antsy if a couple of days go by and you still have no clue what could be causing your blockage. In almost all cases, your blockage will take care of itself after a few days. But it may be, as a basic rule of thumb, a good decision to come see us if your blockage lasts for more than a week.

Early signs of hearing loss can also feel like blocked ears. And as you probably know from our other posts, neglected hearing loss can cause other health problems, especially over time.

Doing no additional damage first will allow your body a chance to mend and clear that blockage away naturally. But when that fails, treatment may be necessary. How long that takes will vary depending on the root cause of your clogged ears.

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