Clogged Ears Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Written by the Nano Hearing Aids Team
Reviewed for Accuracy by Lindsay Roberts, AuD.

Lindsay Roberts
Clogged Ears Hearing Loss: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Key Takeaways

  • Clogged ears can indicate a condition known as conductive hearing loss, which is often treatable.
  • Common causes of clogged ears include earwax buildup, fluid in the middle ear, and positive or negative pressure in the middle ear.
  • Symptoms to watch for are muffled hearing, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and tinnitus (ringing in the ear).
  • Professional diagnosis is crucial, and treatments range from simple at-home remedies to medical interventions.
  • Preventive measures can minimize the risk of clogged ears and related hearing loss.

What is Conductive Hearing Loss?

When your ears feel like they're stuffed with cotton, or you can't quite catch the words of your favorite song, you might be experiencing clogged ears. This uncomfortable sensation can be more than just an annoyance; it could be a sign of conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss happens when there's a problem conducting sound waves anywhere along the route through the outer ear, eardrum, or middle ear. It's like a roadblock on the pathway to your inner ear, where sound is translated into signals your brain can understand.

Degrees of hearing loss:

  • Mild hearing loss: Hearing loss of 26 to 40 decibels. You may struggle to hear whispers, distant conversations, or soft sounds.
  • Moderate hearing loss: Hearing loss of 41 to 55 decibels. Normal conversations become challenging, especially in noisy environments.
  • Severe hearing loss: Hearing loss of 71 to 90 decibels. Without amplification, communication becomes significantly impaired.

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

Several factors can lead to the feeling of clogged ears and associated hearing loss. It's important to understand these causes because they can inform the best course of treatment and prevention.

Common causes: 

  • Earwax Buildup: Earwax is natural and necessary, but too much can block the ear canal.
  • Fluid in the Middle Ear: Often due to colds or allergies, fluid can prevent proper ear function.
  • Ear Infections: Infections can cause swelling and fluid buildup, leading to a sensation of fullness.
  • Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: This tube regulates ear pressure, and when it doesn't work properly, it can make your ears feel clogged.
  • Altitude Changes: Flying or driving in the mountains can affect ear pressure and cause temporary clogging.

Symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss

Recognizing the symptoms of clogged ears is the first step toward addressing the issue. These symptoms can vary in severity.

Look out for these indicators: 

  • Ear Fullness Sensation: Experiencing pressure or a feeling of fullness in the ears.
  • Muffled Hearing: Sounds appear muffled or less distinct.
  • Tinnitus Presence: Ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus.
  • Speech Comprehension Difficulty: Struggling to understand speech, especially with background noise.
  • Ear Pain or Discomfort: Feeling pain or discomfort in the ear.

Diagnosing Hearing Loss

When it comes to diagnosing clogged ears and potential hearing loss, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional. They can perform a thorough examination using an otoscope, a tool that lights and magnifies the inside of the ear, to check for earwax buildup, infection, or any structural issues. An audiologist can conduct a hearing test, known as an audiogram, to determine the extent and type of hearing loss. These tests help pinpoint the specific cause and guide the treatment plan.

Treatment Options for Clogged Ears 

Once you've been diagnosed with clogged ears, there are several treatment options available depending on the underlying cause. Let's explore the treatments that can help you get back to hearing clearly.

Medical Interventions

If your ears are clogged due to earwax buildup, a healthcare provider may perform earwax removal using special tools or ear drops. For infections, antibiotics or antifungal medications may be prescribed. If there's fluid in the middle ear, a procedure to drain the fluid or the placement of ear tubes might be necessary. When Eustachian tube dysfunction is the culprit, decongestants, nasal corticosteroids, or a simple procedure called Eustachian tube dilation may be recommended.

At-Home Remedies and Care

For mild cases of clogged ears, there are several home remedies you can try:

  • Chewing gum or yawning to activate the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes.
  • Applying a warm compress to the affected ear to ease pain and promote fluid drainage.
  • Using over-the-counter ear drops to soften earwax so it can naturally exit the ear canal.

Remember, never insert cotton swabs or other objects into your ear canal, as this can push wax further in and cause more blockage.

When to Consider Hearing Aids

If you're experiencing persistent hearing loss due to clogged ears that cannot be resolved with other treatments, hearing aids may be a beneficial solution. These devices amplify sound to a level that can be heard despite the obstruction. It's important to consult with an audiologist to determine if hearing aids are suitable for your specific condition.

Living with Hearing Loss

Adjusting to life with hearing loss can be challenging, but with the right strategies and support, you can maintain a high quality of life. Stay proactive about your ear health, keep regular appointments with your audiologist, and use assistive listening devices if needed. Communication strategies, such as facing people directly and asking for repetition or clarification, can also be helpful.

Living with clogged ears is tough, but hearing aids can help improve your quality of life.

Can Hearing Loss Caused by Clogged Ears be Prevented?

While not all cases of clogged ears and hearing loss can be prevented, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk:

  • Ear Insertion Caution: Refrain from placing objects, such as cotton swabs, in your ears, as they can drive wax further into the ear canal.
  • Loud Noise Protection: Use earplugs or earmuffs to safeguard your ears in loud settings.
  • Ear Dryness and Cleanliness: Ensure your ears stay dry and clean, particularly following swimming or bathing, to avoid infections.
  • Allergy and Cold Management: Address allergies and colds quickly to minimize the likelihood of fluid accumulating in the middle ear.

NANO OTC Hearing Aids for Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss

NANO CIC Digital Recharge OTC Hearing Aids (CIC4) (Copy)

The NANO CIC Digital Recharge OTC Hearing Aids (CIC4) model.

For those with mild to moderate hearing loss, NANO OTC (Over-the-Counter) hearing aids can be a cost-effective and convenient option. These devices are designed to amplify sound and can be purchased without a prescription. However, it's important to confirm that OTC hearing aids are appropriate for your specific type of hearing loss. A visit to an audiologist can help you determine if these devices will be beneficial for you. 

Shop NANO OTC Hearing Aids

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Are the First Signs of Conductive Hearing Loss?

The first signs can include a feeling of fullness in the ears, difficulty hearing, or a popping sensation when swallowing or yawning. You may also experience tinnitus or a mild earache.

Can Clogged Ears Cause Permanent Hearing Loss?

Most clogged ear issues are temporary and treatable. However, if left untreated, some conditions, such as chronic ear infections, can lead to permanent hearing loss.

How Often Should I Get My Hearing Tested?

It's a good idea to have your hearing tested every few years, or more frequently if you're exposed to loud noises regularly, have a history of ear problems, or if you notice changes in your hearing.

Are There Specific Diets or Supplements to Support Ear Health?

While no specific diet can prevent clogged ears, maintaining overall health with a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can support ear health. Stay hydrated and consider supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Can Children Use NANO OTC Hearing Aids?

OTC hearing aids are generally designed for adults. Children with hearing loss should be evaluated and fitted for hearing aids by a pediatric audiologist for the best care and support.

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