Ask the expert


Left ear feels like it is blocked

My left ear feels like it is blocked or has water in it as there is a pulsating sensation and it feels like my heart beat. It has been like this for a week or two. I have tried medicated ear drops to no avail. I'm going abroad to Egypt on Friday and I have concerns that the change in air pressure within the plane could affect my ear.

17 March 2021

Thank you for writing to Ask the Expert.

From the symptoms you describe it sounds as though your inner ear and middle ear may well be blocked with a build up of wax or that you have a possible ear infection.

You say that you have been using medicated ear drops but that this has not eased the sensation and problem.

It would be advisable to see a GP at your local surgery or Walk-In clinic for review as an examination of the ears to ascertain the cause is necessary. You may need antibiotic treatment as well as medicated ear drops/oils to reduce wax build up or the presence of infection. It is recommended that if possible you get the blocked ear remedied before flying. [Knott, 2017]

These days, as a rule we suggest that you do not use earbuds or fingers to remove wax build up as this can push wax further down the canal so this is why medicated drops are often recommended. [NHS, 2017]

Not all GP surgery’s remove earwax. Some may:

  • flush the wax out with water (ear irrigation)
  • suck the wax out (microsuction).

These treatments are usually painless. You might have to pay to have them done privately. [NHS, 2017]

As you know with air travel, at the point of take off and descent there tends to be a build up of pressure within the ear, which can be painful.

This can be eased by a few techniques:

  • Take decongestants to minimise pain and build up of fluid/wax
  • Try sucking, chewing and swallowing as this helps open up the eustachian tubes
  • Try the Valsalva technique- pinch your nose and at the same time with your mouth firmly closed exhale so that your cheeks puff out.
  • Try using ear plugs which are specifically for use when flying as these will stabilise the ear during pressure changes during take-off and landing. [Knott, 2017]

Once again, we would encourage you to see a GP as soon as possible so that effective treatment can be commenced. If obtaining an appointment with your GP is difficult you may wish to seek an appointment with a private GP or the NHS walk-in centres.

Information re walk in centres can be found on the NHS website -

Wishing you all the best and a good flight.

Answered by the Health at Hand team.

References and further reading

Knott, 2017, Ears and flying. (Accessed 17 March 2021) 

Nhs, 2017, Earwax build up. (Accessed 17 March 2021)  

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