The pressure and discomfort of plugged-up ears are pretty common.

Most people are less worried about why their ears are plugged up and more concerned about how to find relief. However, knowing why your ears are plugged up can help you prevent it from happening and find the best way to get the relief you seek.

The Fox Valley ENT team is here to answer your questions about plugged-up ears, which can be caused by something simple and temporary or something more complex and permanent.

The earlier you are able to spot the underlying cause of your condition, the sooner you can find relief or seek help for an issue with potential long-term consequences.

What Do Plugged-Up Ears Feel Like?

The most common symptom of plugged-up ears is a buildup of pressure in your ear or ears. The feeling of fullness experienced by many is typically related to swelling in the Eustachian tubes, which connect your ears to your nose.

Along with pressure, you might also experience feelings of dizziness, reduced hearing, ringing in your ears, and ear pain.

Fortunately, we know what causes your ears to feel plugged up, help prevent it from happening in the future, and how to relieve the symptoms you’re experiencing.

The Causes of Plugged Ears

By identifying what causes plugged-up ears, we hope to help you avoid the problem, but knowing the cause is also important when it comes to the most effective way to deal with the issue.

Changes in Atmospheric Pressure

Most people have experienced pressure changes in their ears riding in a vehicle as they go over a mountain pass. This same sensation of changing air pressure is also felt on an airplane or underwater when diving.

In most cases, changes in atmospheric pressure have temporary effects and require opening your Eustachian tubes to relieve the pressure.

Swimmer’s Ear

Not all cases of plugged-up ears are related to pressure. Exposure to water can cause inflammation in the ear canal, known as swimmer’s ear. Knowing that water in the ear canal is the cause and how to get it out of your ear is necessary to prevent this from happening. Properly fitted earplugs for swimming can help prevent this as well.


A buildup of impacted earwax is among the most common causes of plugged-up ears. In fact, it is so common that you are likely to assume this is the cause of all ear pressure issues.

Unfortunately, what most people believe is the correct way to eliminate the issue, by removing earwax with a cotton swab or some other slender instrument, only makes things worse.

An Infection

An infection, whether viral, bacterial, or fungal, can cause plugged-up ears due to congestion and inflammation. Inner ear and outer ear infections can have serious ongoing consequences and need to be treated as soon as possible.

The most common infection related to plugged-up ears involves sinus congestion from seasonal allergies that causes swelling or blockage of the Eustachian tubes.


Blunt force trauma to your ears during sports, like boxing or football, or in relation to an accident, can lead to plugged-up ears. In most cases, the pressure and fullness you’re experiencing will go away, but if there are signs of bleeding or a concussion, then please contact us immediately.

How to Safely Treat Plugged-Up Ears

In most cases, with a little bit of time, the pressure in your ears will normalize. However, if you are looking for relief sooner rather than later, try one of these five remedies:

Get rid of the pressure via the Eustachian tubes by swallowing, chewing gum, or yawning.

Try the Valsalva maneuver (pinch nose, close mouth, and gently try to blow through your nose).

Use nasal decongestants and allergy medications to deal with sinus-related pressure.

Tilt your head from side to side to help water run out of your ears.

Seek professional assistance for removing earwax.

If you have seasonal allergies, relief may involve taking prescribed allergy medications. If plugged-up ears are a chronic condition or you have recently experienced a blow to the head or ear, it is important to contact us for an examination and treatment.

Get the Answers You Need

Finding relief for plugged-up ears begins with understanding the causes and simple solutions for dealing with pressure or congestion.

However, feelings of fullness and pain in your ears may indicate more serious, permanent conditions that require professional treatment.

Contact our team of professionals at Fox Valley ENT to get the answers you need or to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors by using the adjacent link, or call the clinic nearest you.

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David S. Hemmer, M.D.

Dr. Hemmer is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology. He received his doctor of medicine at the University of Illinois in 1974.