Your ears can feel blocked, clogged or plugged for a number of reasons. For example, the sensation may be a result of cold or flu symptoms or, more commonly, you can have a buildup of wax in your ears, according to the Mayo Clinic. A small amount of earwax is normal; it helps clean, protect, lubricate and fight infections in the ear canal. When you chew, cough, speak or otherwise move your jaw, you are naturally helping to shuttle wax along. It's also possible for the wax to build up and become impacted, especially if you frequently poke objects in your ear trying to clear it out. Fortunately, many home remedies can help you soften the wax and help clear it out.
Assess your symptoms. Know that under ideal circumstances, your ear's mechanics are designed to be self-cleaning. Your ears may be blocked by wax if you experience earache, fullness in the ear, partial hearing loss, noises in the ear, itching, odor or discharge. Distinguish your symptoms from ear plugging caused by a cold, flu or allergies. In that case, the tubes running between your ears and the back of your nose, called Eustachian tubes, may be blocked, causing sounds to be muffled. This kind of plug is usually mild and temporary and goes away with the illness. Knowing the difference can help you determine the best course of action.
Try to open up your Eustachian tubes if your ears are clogged due to cold or flu. Take a deep breath, pinch your nostrils, close your mouth and then blow. Listen for a popping noise in your ear to let you know you've successfully cleared them, the Mayo Clinic advises.
Soften wax buildup. Tilt your head and place a few drops of mineral or baby oil, glycerin or any over-the-counter eardrops in your ear. Hydrogen peroxide may also help remove wax. Keep your head to the side for a few minutes to allow the solution to break up the wax. If you can't stay in this position, some people use a cotton swab to keep the solution in so they can hold their head upright.
Irrigate your ears. Take a syringe and pull gently on your earlobe to widen the space for the syringe to enter your ear canal. Flush with warm or tepid water using the syringe. Allow the water to flow out naturally. The American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery states that you can use a saline solution too, and you can combine the drops method with the irrigation method. Use the drops at least 15 to 30 minutes before irrigating.
Seek treatment from your health-care provider if your manual home remedies don't work well. She can use special instruments that suction out the earwax. Your doctor may also prescribe drops for you.
If you're sure your ears are plugged due to a cold or the flu, try over-the-counter medications that have decongestants, or nasal spray antihistamines. In severe cases, your doctor may need to use ventilation tubes to relieve the pressure and drain fluids, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Don't stick anything in your ear to try to clear out earwax. Doing so will only push the wax further into your ear canal. If you have an injured eardrum, sticking something in your ear may also increase your risk of infection. In addition, if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system, see your doctor to clear a clogged ear rather than try to do it yourself. The American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery advises against ear candles to remove wax.
Angela Ogunjimi has been a prize-winning writer and editor since 1994. She was a general assignment reporter at two newspapers and a business writer at two magazines. She writes on nutrition, obesity, diabetes and weight control for a project of the National Institutes of Health. Ogunjimi holds a master's degree in sociology from George Washington University and a bachelor's in journalism from New York University.