How do you fix a clogged ear that has no wax build up?

My son and I have both experienced a clogged ear when there appeared to be no wax build up. While there was no exterior wax causing the clog, after consulting with our doctor we discovered that there was in fact a wax build up far down in the canal that was not visible and too far in the canal to remove with a q-tip (which our doctor strongly suggested we never use). Instead, the doc said to use one of those rubber bulb suckers (used normally to remove mucus from the noses of babies).

Here is what we did:

1. Take a hot shower and allow water to cover side of head for a good long while.

2. Fill bulb with hot water and firmly squeeze water into canal.

3. Repeat several times.

Eventually, in both cases, a large wax plug was flushed out of the canal! I was really surprised when it happened to me because I was certain that there was no wax build up.

This is not an easy answer. It requires the person with the "clogged" ear to give more details. The best answer is to recommend that you see your health care professional for an exam. It could be one of many things causing your symptoms, and each would have a potentially different fix and different urgency.

Cerumen Impaction

For example, how do you know there is no wax build up? Has it been looked at with an otoscope? If not, there may well be impacted wax. It is something that has to be seen, not "felt". If that is it, then there are kits available over the counter to loosen and remove clogged wax build up. Speak to the Pharmacist for advice about use and products. Proper use of bulb syringes for irrigation is critical, if the flow of the water is too firm directly on the ear drum, it can cause problems, you will need the instructions for how to use this properly if you try it after other causes are ruled out. It may take more than one application to clear the wax if it is impacted. In worst cases, an ENT specialist may need to remove it for you.

Do not put Q-tips into your ear canals, ever. They push the wax in deeper and compact it, embedding it at the same time with cotton or synthetic fibers which sets up virtual concrete in your ears. Once any impaction of cerumen (earwax) is cleared properly, if left alone, your ears will clean themselves of wax build up. If you try to remove the wax, you create an environment that can allow bacteria and fungi to take hold, and make things worse.

Earwax performs important functions. It collects dirt and debris in your ear canal and moves it out of your ears where you can wash it off as you wash your face and external ears. It forms a layer of protective wax in the ear canal which is a water repelling shield (ear canals need to be dry to be healthy). The wax also is slightly acidic and will not allow the growth of bacteria, and, it even contains some mild antibacterial components.

Swimmer's Ear

When someone looks in your ear and there is no wax build up, they may see signs of infection. Could you have gotten water in the ear just prior to your symptoms? Water in the ear canal creates an environment conducive for infection by bacteria and fungi. If you notice a problem after getting water in your ear from a shower or swimming, this may be what makes the ear feel clogged. It usually requires antibiotics for otitis externa (infection of the ear canal), but once the current infection is treated, you can prevent this problem by avoiding getting the ears wet, and/or drying them quickly after (a hair dryer on low heat and low blower speed can feel soothing as it dries the ear canal). Some people are more prone to this than others, it can be a simple anatomical matter of having small ear canal openings that don't allow water to properly drain and dry after immersion. Additionally, if you increase the acidity in the canal, you can help prevent infections. There are solutions of vinegar water, etc. that a doctor may suggest, be sure to have the instructions for the proper water:vinegar ratio and use.

Otitis Media

Ears feel clogged when the middle ear is infected, only a doctor can diagnose and treat this. It can cause permanent hearing loss if left untreated.

Eustachian Tubes/Sinus and Throat Infections

Ears can seem clogged when the Eustachian tubes are inflamed by colds and flu and sinus and throat infections. These, again, need treatment and diagnosis by a doctor. If you have recently flown, the pressure changes in airplane cabins during take off and landing can create discomfort and muffled/clogged ear canals in some people temporarily during and after a flight. There are ear plugs made specifically for this, that help prevent sudden pressure changes in your ears, and makes flying much more pleasant for those with this problem.

Hearing Loss

A sense of clogging of the ear or ears can be a sign of hearing loss and once the medical reasons are eliminated by the health care professional's examination, it may be suggested that you get a hearing test.