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How to unclog blocked ears from a cold

Updated February 21, 2017

The common cold can cause dozens of minor irritants, from runny noses to sore throats to painful coughs. But one of the most annoying side effects of a cold can be the sensation of clogged ears. This is caused by unequal pressure in the sinuses. This pressure can build up when membranes swell in the sinuses or ears. Occasionally, the sensation may also be caused by excess ear wax production. This feeling of clogged ears can be disconcerting, but can be easily remedied using any of the following techniques. If symptoms persist after trying these methods, you should call your doctor.

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  1. Move your mouth. Yawning, eating, swallowing, and chewing gum can all help to reduce the sensation of clogged ears.

  2. Conduct a Valsalva manoeuvre. This sounds complicated, but it's really just a proper name for a simple technique often used by divers or frequent flyers. Inhale deeply, hold your nose, and close your mouth while trying to expel the air from your nose, almost like you are blowing your nose into your hand. This technique can help relieve ear pressure.

  3. Take a shower. The steam can help to regulate pressure in the sinuses, and can also help to soften any excess ear wax that may have built up during the course of your cold.

  4. Soften excess ear wax with commercial ear wax drops or a few drops of baby oil. Make sure to follow the directions carefully if using a commercial product.

  5. Irrigate the sinuses with a neti-pot. Shaped like a small watering can, this common tool is filled with warm saltwater. The spout is inserted into the nasal cavity, and floods the nasal passages. Some people find that this helps them to recover from a cold and can reduce the associated ear symptoms.

  6. Use a decongestant or antihistamine nasal spray to further combat swelling.

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Things You'll Need

  • Neti-pot
  • Antihistamine or decongestant spray
  • Chewing gum
  • Ear drops/baby oil

About the Author

Tucker Cummings

Tucker Cummings is a freelance writer based in New England. She holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of New Hampshire and is a member of the Association of Professional Business Writers. Cummings is also a food writer and curates the blog, Brave New Breakfast.

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