How to Unblock Blocked Ears
Blocked ear sensation is the result of the air pressure on either side of your ear drum not being equal. Blocked ears arise when air is unable to move through the Eustachian tube to equalise the pressure.
Since this condition is so common with air travel, the blocked ears feeling is commonly known as "aeroplane ear".
When the pressure inside the middle ear does not match the air pressure outside the ear drum, the drum cannot vibrate as freely as it should. This affects your hearing, making sounds appear muffled. If you can't hear your own voice properly, your speaking and singing ability are likewise impacted.
Blocked ears may also affect balance (since the balance mechanism is located inside your ears), and may contribute to tinnitus.
If the Eustachian tube remains blocked, fluid will seep into the middle ear from the membranes that line it, in an attempt to overcome the vacuum that is created from the lack of air. This is called "fluid in the ear", or serous otitis. It is common to treat fluid in the ear with grommets, inserting a hole in the ear drum so that the fluid can seep out. However, there are natural ways to deal with the root cause rather than resorting to surgery! It may simply require a decongestant, a dietary change or the use of Sound Therapy.
What causes blocked ears?
Have you even noticed that when you swallow, your ears make a small "click" or popping sound? This occurs because an air bubble has travelled from the back of your throat, along your Eustachian tube, to your middle ear.
The eardrum is a membrane, like a piece of skin, which blocks the entry to the middle ear. Air can't enter the middle ear through the eardrum. Air needs to move through the Eustachian tube to keep the air pressure the same on both sides of the eardrum. Normally the Eustachian tube is closed, but it can open to allow air through. If the Eustachian tube gets blocked, air cannot get in and out of the middle ear. The resulting pressure imbalance causes the feeling of a blocked ear.
There are a variety of reasons why the Eustachian tube can become blocked or obstructed.
Rapid changes of pressure
A temporary ear blockage can be common when experiencing rapid changes of pressure as a result of changing altitude, such as:
- taking off or landing in a plane
- driving up or down a hill or mountain
- riding in an elevator
- diving deep in a pool or scuba diving
If you are unable to "pop" the blockage in your ears to equalise the pressure, your ear blockage can quickly go from being uncomfortable to being very painful, as the pressure difference causes your ear drum to stretch. This is why babies tend to scream when a plane takes off or lands.
A stuffy nose
The most common cause of ear blockage is when you have a cold and your Eustachian tube gets blocked with mucous. In fact, any condition which creates extra mucous in your nose can lead to blockage of the ear - this includes eating wheat and dairy products.
Sinus and throat infections and nasal allergies such as hay fever are also causes of blocked ear, as the swollen membranes block the opening of the Eustachian tube.
This annoying feeling of a blocked ear accompanying a blocked nose generally disappears once the cold or infection is better.
If you suffer from excess mucous on an ongoing basis, see how to unblock your sinuses.
The opening and closing of the Eustachian tube is controlled involuntarily by four tiny muscles, one of which is a branch of the hammer muscle (tensor tympani) inside the middle ear. If the hammer muscle has become weak or over contracted, or tends to go into spasm, it will not have good tonality, and it cannot do its job correctly.
A rare, more permanent condition is "patulous Eustachian tube", which occurs when the Eustachian tube is permanently open, yet it feels as though the ear is permanently blocked.
For chronic cases of blocked ear, Sound Therapy can rehabilitate your ear muscles to enable the Eustachian tube to open and close properly again.
How to "pop" your ears
For a temporary blockage, make a concerted effort to swallow or yawn to help "pop" the blockage in your ears.
To help with this while travelling by plane, you can:
- Avoid sleeping during take off and landing - ask someone to wake you up before the plane starts to descend, and wake any children travelling with you as well
- Chew gum or suck on a sweet
- Give a baby a feed or a pacifier to suck on during take off and landing during a flight to help reduce the pain they experience from blocked ears
If yawning or swallowing doesn't help, another method useful method is to take a breath and then with your mouth closed, pinch your nostrils closed with your fingers, and try to blow air through your nose gently (like you would if you were blowing your nose with a tissue).
If you still can't unblock your ears, the methods below for unblocking your sinuses may help.
Unblocking your sinuses
If your blocked ear problem persists, you may need to attend to any sinus or excess mucous problems.
The sinuses are hollow chambers inside the head lined with mucous membrane. Tensions, swelling and imbalances in the pressure chambers of the ear can exacerbate inflammation of the sinuses.
Temporary relief may be achieved through the use of a natural decongestant such as a steam inhalation of peppermint, eucalyptus or tea tree oil, or sprays containing colloidal silver, grapefruit seed extract, or homoeopathic remedies:
Sinus problems may also respond to dietary changes, in particular avoiding wheat and dairy products since they can contribute to excess mucous production. We recommend the alkaline diet described by Dr Robert O Young in his book "The pH Miracle: Balance your diet, reclaim your health".
Using Sound Therapy in addition to dietary changes makes a tremendous difference in helping to relieve long term, chronic sinus problems, as consistent use of Sound Therapy aids the harmonious working of the various nerves, muscles and pressure chambers that constitute the ear, nose and throat system.
More information about Sound Therapy is available below in how to fix your faulty ear muscles.
Rehabilitating faulty ear muscles
Once you have ruled out or fixed mucous and inflammatory blockages, you can look at toning your ear muscles. An effective way of rehabilitating your ear muscles is with Sound Therapy.
Sound Therapy is a therapeutic listening program which uses specially recorded and filtered classical music on a portable player with headphones to correct disorders relating to the ear. It is particularly effective for overcoming the blocked ear sensation as the fluctuating sounds provided in Sound Therapy exercise and re-tone the ear muscles and restores their flexibility, returning full function to the hammer muscle and thus making equalization of the middle ear air pressure easy and automatic.
We recommend the Joudry Sound Therapy International programs, originally developed by Ear, Nose and Throat specialist Dr Alfred Tomatis and refined by Patricia and Rafaele Joudry. These programs are clinically proven, used in hundreds of clinics for over 60 years, and available in a portable format for over 25 years.
You can use a Sound Therapy International program in the comfort of your own home - there is no need to travel to a clinic for regular treatment, though follow ups with a qualified consultant are available if you would like someone to assist you.
Which Sound Therapy International Program should I use?
For treating a blocked ear, the best Sound Therapy program to start with is the Listening Foundation Program. For most, this program is all they need to successfully overcome their sensation of blocked ears.
For those that need more help, Advanced programs are available to move onto after using a Level 1 program for at least 300 hours. For a blocked ear, choose the Natural Hearing Improvement series.
It comes with a comprehensive manual, training DVDs, Sound Therapy book, and 3 month listener support via email. Face-to-face consultations incur an additional consultation fee.
- On and off, my right ear would have a sensation of being blocked, like when you are on a plane. If I was in a crowded room sometimes it would be difficult to hear.
- [After 3 months of Sound Therapy it is] 98 per cent clear. I probably do it once a week these days, but I know that if I leave it, my ear will get blocked again.
- It's made a really big difference for me. I always had good hearing but had this echo. Now I can feel comfortable singing again.
- Katy Fitzgerald
New South Wales, Australia
- The fullness/blocked feeling has greatly reduced, tinnitus has reduced by about a 1/3, hearing has improved slightly.
- Albert M
15 November 2013
After 6 weeks of Sound Therapy (approx 180 hours)
- Fullness in left ear has gone!!
- Michael S
After 2 weeks of Sound Therapy
- Four years ago I developed a problem with blocked Eustachian tubes whenever I flew. Not being able to hear people properly was very frustrating, irritating and isolating. Any pleasure in attending events was replaced with anxiety at not being able to be myself as I had to struggle so much with being attentive to conversations.
- Occasionally, this problem would rectify itself on the return flight as the plane was taking off but eventually I would suffer for weeks (then months) at a time with blocked ears. This problem persisted until I decided to use Sound Therapy a year ago.
- When my ears "popped" within three days of starting the treatment, I realised that my hearing had been worse than I thought! I cannot express the relief of having my hearing restored. Irritability and that strange sensation of disorientation simply evaporated with it.
- I have flown many times since starting Sound Therapy and have not had painful ears or blocked Eustachian tubes. Besides, I also ensure that this will not recur as I listen to Sound Therapy when I fly, so enjoy the other benefit of arriving refreshed and energetic. Sound Therapy is such as wonderful experience in so many ways.
- Andrea Blackman
Kiama NSW, Australia
- I am very happy to report that within the last month I discoverd that I am not deaf on arriving at Wodonga/Albury or Wangarata, which are considerably lower than Beechworth! It wa sa real thrill I can assure you, and when coming back to Beechworth I did not feel the pressures in my head when climbing back up the hill.
- I used the therapy on my return plane trip to Auckland and was thrilled to find at each destination I had no hearing problems whatsoever! It was incredible in view of my lack of hearing on previous journeys, and I can't say enough praise of my all round benefits when people ask me what I am doing! It has given me courage to attempt further travels.
- Ruth Arnott
Beechworth, Victoria, Australia
- When I was in the German army in January 1944, I had an infection of both inner ears and the Eustachian tubes. Because my temperature was only slightly elevated I was given a few Aspros. The greater part of the problem then became chronic.
- A year later I was a gunner in a light armoured car. During gunnery exercise there was a malfunction in the 2cm gun which caused some kind of explosion. Fortunately all the hatches were open, but I had little sense of hearing or sense of balance for a few days.
- The result of both incidents was tinnitus with a combination of sounds. My ear drums tended to feel sucked in, quite uncomfortable at times, often I could not pop them out when I blew my nose with nostrils blocked.
- In 1979 a sinus condition developed which I blamed on the type of chalk I was sing as a teacher.
- After 2 months of Sound Therapy (330 hours), this is my assessment:
- - Sinus condition has improved gradually and is about 80% better in general.
- - Eustachian tubes improved about 50%.
- - Left ear: much lighter noise of a higher pitch, congestion far less, about 70% better.
- - Right ear: very slight ringing, some congestion left, about 90% better.
- Generally speaking, I feel that a considerable change has been going on within me and apparently still is.
- Hans Wuelfert
Lavington NSW, Australia