Ask the expert


I can’t hear because I have very blocked ears

Both my ears are very blocked. When I lay down on my left side I cannot hear anything unless I physically open my ear drum with my finger. Do I need to go to an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist or is there something I can do at home to unblock my ears?

31 January 2019

The inner ears are connected to the nose and throat, and there are many reasons why they could become blocked, including:

  • Irritation or inflammation of the thin tubes in the inner ear, which make the ear feel blocked
  • Ear wax build up
  • Ear infection.

Irritation in the inner ear can often happen if you are suffering with throat, nasal or sinus problems – or developing a cold.

Ear infections are usually associated with earache and/or fluid discharge from the ear. The pain can be made worse if you move your head or change the air pressure. If you have any of these symptoms you should contact your GP.

As you have not described any other symptoms, we’ll focus on aspects that can affect the ear itself and the wax build up.

Earwax is produced to help your ears stay clean. It usually leaves your ear by itself but sometimes it can build up and block them.

Blocked ear symptoms

Hearing loss is a common symptom of ear wax build up, but others include:

Blocked ear treatment

Using ear buds or your finger to try and remove the wax can make the situation worse as this may cause the wax to be pushed further down into the ear and become more impacted.

Ear buds can also sometimes cause the skin and membrane within the ear to become inflamed and sore. This could cause some swelling which would also make your ear feel blocked, especially if this goes on to cause a small spot or cyst.

The most common treatment for a blocked ear is ear drops. These soften and dissolve some of the wax and enable it to naturally work its way out of the ear. Ear drops can be bought over the counter and your local pharmacy can advise you about which ear drops would work for you.

If ear drops do not help after three to five days, visit your GP or practice nurse. This is important as if the blocked ear persists it could cause an infection.

Your GP or nurse could try to remove the wax by flushing it out with water (ear irrigation) or sucking it out (microsuction).

There is also a treatment known as an aural toilet. This is where a small tool with a loop at one end is inserted into the ear to scrape out the wax.

Your doctor will be able to discuss what treatment would best suit your needs and medical history, as well as any associated risks.

Alternative remedies for blocked ears

Hopi candles or ear candling have been used in complementary therapies to help soothe and assist ear problems.

They are made from cotton soaked in beeswax and rolled to form hollow tubes. When lit, they cause warm air to rise, creating a chimney effect within the ear canal and this has been reported to help soothe irritation, inflammation and blockages.

The NHS says that there is no proof that ear candling can get rid of earwax, however. And, as with any kind of treatment that involves candles or heated wax, you’d need to follow the instructions carefully and take adequate safety precautions.

Answered by the Health at Hand team.

Sources and further reading

Blocked ear and flying – Ask the Expert
Earwax build up – NHS Factsheet
Glue ear (in children) – NHS Factsheet
Ear infection – NHS Factsheet

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