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In all mammals there is a connection between the airways and the inner ear that is called the Eustachian Tube. It is an ancient remnant of gills and used in mammals to equilibrate the pressure in the inner ear to the outside pressure.

What are clogged ears and its causes

We feel this equilibration as a “pop” when we e.g. go down 50 floors in an elevator or in airplanes. An equilibration can also be done deliberately by gently blowing into the nose while holding the nose closed. This technique is often used by divers to equilibrate their inner ear pressure to the increasing pressure under water with increasing depth. Yawning or chewing gum can also help with the equilibration process.

Clogged or stuffed ears are usually caused when the Eustachian tube is clogged preventing successful equilibration. This can usually be felt as a slight discomfort and it can impair hearing to a certain extent or make the sound appear hollow and muffled. In cases where a large pressure difference appears e.g. in diving, airplanes or in elevators of skyscrapers, the discomfort of not being able to equilibrate the inner ear pressure can quickly become acute pain that can be so severe that people have deliberately punctured their ear drum to release the pressure.

What are the causes of clogged ears?

Often, the Eustachian tube can become clogged as a result of upper respiratory tract infections like the flu and the common cold and other conditions that cause congestion in the nose, as the swelling of the mucus membranes in the nose often also involves other areas of the upper respiratory tract and the Eustachian tube. Allergies can also cause airway congestion that involves the Eustachian tube and cause clogged ears. Clogged ears can also be caused by an inner ear infection, which can appear as an isolated inner ear infection or as a consequence of an upper respiratory infection. In the case of an inner ear infection there is usually not just the slight discomfort of clogged ears, but a moderate to severe ear ache. Another common cause of clogged ears is build up of ear wax in the middle ear. Ears can also feel clogged if they contain water after e.g. swimming or bathing and showering.

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