Clogged ears can be frustrating and depending on the cause of your symptoms, home remedies don’t always work. This article will explore some of the best medications for clogged ears.
You might be thinking, why are my ears clogged? Well, your sinuses and ears are connected, so sinus congestion can also affect the pressure in your ears, giving you more than just a stuffy nose. Because of this pressure change, you can experience pain, dizziness, and a muffled-ear sensation.
How Do You Know When to Take Medicine for Clogged Ears?
If your clogged ears are bothering you and you’ve already tried lots of home remedies, it might be time to tackle your symptoms with an Over-the-Counter (OTC) medication or visit your doctor for a prescription.
Working Out the Cause of Your Clogged Ears
To start the most effective course of treatment, you’ll want to work out the cause of your clogged ears. Keep track of your experience and make a note of your symptoms. Not only will this help you to identify the cause, but this will also be useful information if you need to visit your doctor due to worsening or persistent symptoms.
Blocked Eustachian tubes
If you experience the following symptoms, you might have blocked Eustachian tubes:
- Pain in the ears
- Fullness in the ears
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hearing problems
- Feeling a little dizzy
Excess Earwax/Cerumen impaction
Earwax (cerumen), is produced to protect against ear infections and provides a handy physical barrier against water, bacteria, and bugs. It usually clears on its own without you having to do anything, but sometimes it accumulates.
This wax buildup, or cerumen impaction, is common amongst those with a history of impaction, older adults, children, and hearing aid and earplug users.
If you have an accumulation of earwax you might experience:
- Ear discomfort
- Hearing loss
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Ear fullness
- A cough
- An odor
If you have sinus pressure you may experience clogged or ringing ears.
Sinusitis is a common culprit of sinus pressure. Here are some symptoms:
- Clogged ears and nose
- A reduced sense of smell
- Facial pressure
- Pain and tenderness in the face
- Postnasal drip
- A runny nose
- A fever
Sinusitis can also be caused by allergies, anatomical abnormalities, non-allergic inflammation of your nasal passages, smoking, diabetes, and swimming.
Ear infections can also cause your clogged ear symptoms. This might be the case if you’re experiencing:
- Ear pain
- Disturbed sleep or restless sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
Acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor that slowly grows on the nerves connecting ear and brain structures that control hearing and balance, can lead to the feeling of clogged ears.
Look out for the following symptoms:
- Hearing loss on the affected side
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Numbness/paralysis of the face
If you experience these symptoms, it can be very serious. See a doctor as soon as possible.
If you have been flying recently you might have 'airplane ear,’ which occurs when the air pressure changes dramatically, affecting your tympanic membrane in your ear.
Symptoms might include:
- Fullness in the ear
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Vertigo (a spinning sensation)
- Blood in the middle ear
Meniere’s disease is a condition that affects the inner ear, and the beginning stages feel like your ears are clogged. You might also have hearing loss, tinnitus, and vertigo.
Medicine for Clogged Ears Caused by Congestion (Blocked Eustachian Tubes)
The Eustachian tubes connect the middle ears to the back of the throat, helping the ears to drain fluid and keep air pressure at the right level. However, sometimes fluid or negative pressure gets stuck in the middle ear, causing discomfort and trouble hearing.
This is likely to happen when you have a cold, sinusitis, an infection or allergies as they can cause swelling which makes it harder for the tubes to open. This results in pressure changes or even fluid collecting in the middle ear which can cause pain or lead to an infection.
Blocked Eustachian tubes will often get better on their own or after trying to yawn or ‘popping your ears,’ as the tubes open briefly to let air in to make the pressure in the middle ears equal to the pressure outside of the ears.
If this doesn’t solve your problems, however, you should make an appointment with your doctor. They’ll be able to recommend an OTC pain medication to relieve your symptoms, but sometimes you might just have to wait for the ears to pop on their own.
If your congestion is caused by allergies, a steroid medicine that you can spray into your nose might help, or alternatively, decongestants that you take by mouth or spray into your nose will help ease congestion and unclog your ears.
Medicine for Clogged Ears Caused by an Infection
If your clogged ears are caused by an outer ear infection your doctor might recommend acidic ear drops to prevent bacteria or fungus from spreading. They might also suggest antibiotic ear drops for bacterial infections, steroid ear drops to reduce swelling, antifungal ear drops for fungal infection, and antibiotic tablets if the bacterial infection is severe or ongoing.
For infections inside the ear, antibiotics are not generally offered, as these infections usually go on their own (as stated by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). A painkiller such as paracetamol might be recommended for the pain (which antibiotics can’t treat).
This being said, you might be prescribed antibiotics in some instances, such as if your infection does not start to get better after three days, you have any fluid coming out of your ear, or you have an illness that means there's a risk of complications (such as cystic fibrosis).
OTC Medicine for Clogged Ears
If you’re experiencing general stuffiness, ear discomfort, and sinus pain, an OTC pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, can help ease your earache or pain from sinus pressure.
OTC decongestant tablets or nasal sprays can ease sinus blockage and clogged ears, just be sure you don’t use them for more than three days as your body can get overly habituated to them.
Although ear infections can often resolve without treatment, OTC ear drops and pain medication can help you with your symptoms. You might need to take antibiotics if your symptoms are severe or last more than two or three days.
Also be sure to avoid extreme temperatures, keep your head up, blow your nose gently (blocking one nostril), and drink plenty of fluids to help nasal mucus thin.
What Medicine to Avoid When You Have Clogged Ears
If you have an ear infection it is not recommended that you try either decongestants or antihistamines as they will not make a difference to your symptoms.
Of course, if this is not the cause of your problems they may help. It’s useful to keep track of your symptoms to try to work out what’s going on or visit a doctor for a diagnosis.
When to See a Doctor
If your symptoms are getting worse or aren’t going away at home, or you are also experiencing severe pain, a fever, dizziness, fluid drainage, bleeding from your ear, hearing loss, or balance problems you should make an appointment with your doctor.
They will have the right tools to safely remove wax if this is the issue, or can prescribe you medications.
Never attempt to remove ear wax on your own, as you could damage your ear. Your doctor will be able to advise you on whether the buildup needs removal and remove the earwax with proper cleaning techniques.
It is worth keeping in mind that chronic inflammation and tumors can cause symptoms of clogged ears, but can also cause permanent hearing problems. It is always worth visiting a doctor to rule out dangerous underlying conditions.
Your doctor might need to look in your nose (as it is connected to the ear) and some people may require medical imaging (if you have suspected acoustic neuroma).
To learn more about hearing health, see our other blog articles.
The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: