Make it pop!
January 5, 2006 8:25 AM   Subscribe

How do I unclog my ear?

I always hate flying because there's always someone sick sitting next to me on the plane. This time, shamefully, I was the sick one with my kleenex and coughdrops. My ears hurt like hell while we were descending, and now my right ear is still clogged (the next day). Is there anything I can do?
posted by purplefiber to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Irrigate it with hot water in the shower for more than two minutes.

Or, lie on your side and put a half-tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide in it. Wait for 10 minutes.
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:29 AM on January 5, 2006

What you're trying to unclog is the canal between your sinuses and your ear, and there are ways to do this.

First, attempt to unclog your sinuses with something like Dristan Nasal Mist. Then use a nonprescription max softener (any pharmacy will have them). That will involve filling your ear canal and laying on your side for 15-20 minutes while it seeps in. In my experience it's much easier to lay down and have someone else fill your ear. Then take a shower to rinse it all out. A small squeeze bulb for this job will help a lot (also available at the pharmacy).

I feel for you...I had this happen on a trip from Edmonton to San Francisco and it hurt like hell for three days.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:34 AM on January 5, 2006

posted by logicpunk at 8:34 AM on January 5, 2006

I wouldn't recommend sohcahtoa's hydrogen peroxide suggestion...just a little too strong and potentially cause other problems.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:35 AM on January 5, 2006

You can buy one of those little ear cleaning kits with the water-squirter and peroxide solution pretty much anywhere. I've had fantastic success with them. It requires patience and a determined effort, though. When you are successful, you will be treated to one of the single most revolting spectacles of your life. And there will be a lot of it.

DO NOT USE Q-TIPS. Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.
posted by rentalkarma at 8:37 AM on January 5, 2006

I've heard about using a few drops of hydrogen peroxide, followed by some drops of rubbing alcohol to dry out the moisture from the hydrogen peroxide.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:38 AM on January 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you can't get it "unclogged", see a doctor, and soon. Apparently you're not supposed to fly with clogged Eustachian tubes.
posted by loquacious at 8:40 AM on January 5, 2006

I tried all these things once over three days of not being able to hear anything but muffles and finally went to the ER where a doctor and a nurse spent about three hours unclogging me. It was not fun. It probably wouldn't have been as bad if I didn't wait three days. In other words, if your attempts fail, head on over to a doctor.

I'd never heard a nurse say "ewwww" before.
posted by bondcliff at 8:41 AM on January 5, 2006

I had a similar problem once after flying and just kept taking decongestants. When my ear continued hurting, I went to the doctor and found out that I had a bad ear infection and was close to rupturing my eardrum. If your ear is still hurting in a few days, I would suggest going to the doctor.
posted by JuliaKM at 8:44 AM on January 5, 2006

Yes, rentalkarma, it can be quite dramatic the first time. Ewwww, indeed. I got a bunch of gunk out, and it helped my problem, but it didn't solve it.

My doc said ear wax was only one of the causes of that blocked feeling in the ears. I have narrow eustacian tubes, and they will always be liable to get blocked (not by wax, but by mucous), and to get infected. Along with regular cleanings, my doc also suggested sudafed, and, when that doesn't work, prescription steroid nasal spray.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:48 AM on January 5, 2006

What kickstart70 said. If your ears hurt, it's not the wax in the external canal that's bothering you, it's the eustachean tube between the sinuses and your middle ear, behind the ear drum. Decongestants, antihistamines are really the only way to go.
posted by the jam at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2006

I use Murine. Works every time.
posted by selfnoise at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2006

If you're having problems with Sudafed not working, make sure it's not some stupid new reformulation without pseudophedrine (which is the magic bullet when it comes to drying out your sinusy bits). The doc might also be willing to give you an Rx for the good XR pseudophedrine stuff, too, which works miracles at times.
posted by kcm at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2006

Here's one Mrs. Pressed Rat swears by, taught to her by an old Indian woman:

Take a large piece of newspaper (double side), roll into a fairly tight cone with a small open end at the apex and about a 6-8" diameter at the large end. In length it should be about 1 1/2-to-2 feet, end to end.

Insert the small end into your affected ear to where it makes a seal - have a friend/S.O. hold it in place for you

Have them set the large diameter end on fire with a match/lighter so that the complete circumference is burning. No, I'm not kidding.

Allow it to burn down until the "whoosh" occurs - the updraft of the burning end creates a vacuum effect on your inner ear which should help unclog it - It may take some time or multiple effort to get it right, so be patient.

I know, I know, sounds crazy but it works if its a relatively benign clogged ear. If that and/or the Benadryl don't get it, see the sawbones.
posted by Pressed Rat at 8:56 AM on January 5, 2006

Question 6117
March 27, 2004
What's a surefire way to pop one's ear following a flight on an airplane (or anytime else)?
posted by werty at 8:56 AM on January 5, 2006

You can buy one of those little ear cleaning kits with the water-squirter and peroxide solution pretty much anywhere. I've had fantastic success with them. It requires patience and a determined effort, though. When you are successful, you will be treated to one of the single most revolting spectacles of your life. And there will be a lot of it.
Yes, indeed. Once you get the hang of how to use these things they are great, but they take a little bit of practice. I always thought it was the acid-y stuff eating away at the wax that did the majority of the work, but really it's just there to loosen things up. The real work is done by the water that you squirt in there. And you have to be persistent. The way I do it is by filling up the sink with warm/tepid water. Then, using that to keep refilling the squeezee-thing, you just keep squirting a stream of water in the ear. The angle does matter. You have to just keep on doing this for far longer than you would think. But after a while, you will be rewarded with a humongous gob of nasty shit that falls out, and you will be amazed at how clear you can hear. It's like night and day.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:58 AM on January 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

And what rhomboid said.....
posted by Pressed Rat at 9:03 AM on January 5, 2006

I'll add to what Rhomboid said by saying that it took two tries for me to get it right. The first time, at night, didn't produce anything spectacular. But then I tried again the following morning, and I got a good 1/4 inch chunk (now I wish I'd saved it).
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:13 AM on January 5, 2006

I now never fly without a Vick nasal inhaler, having twice perforated an eardrum on commercial flights. Murine works, but really only for maintenance.

Wrigley's Airwaves (a supremely nasty decongestant chewing gum) is also handy to have around, but I think it's only available in Europe.
posted by scruss at 9:28 AM on January 5, 2006

Pressed Rat, I tried a few times with the wax cones they sell on purpose for that, but I have to say it doesn't really do much at all. Very little came out, and the pressure was not relieved. Plus in one instance it complicated the problem as I also had an eczema inside the ear (didn't know that at the time, only found out later when seeing the doctor) as well as clogging, so the cone just irritated the skin even further - the end of the cone that goes in the ear, the warmth, it all just made the itching and swelling worse. I never used them since.

That time I had to go to the nearest hospital's ear specialist to get the crap sucked out cos it'd gotten real bad - I couldn't hear anything - and then was given drops (decongestants as mentioned above). The whole problem disappeared in a few days after that. I was told to use a shower cap and avoid getting any water into the ear until it'd gotten better. And the doctor pounded my head with the "NO QTIPS IN YOUR EARS! THOSE THINGS ARE EVIL!" warning.

If it's not too clogged up I guess the drops alone are fine, as others said. But if those don't work I'd definitely see a doctor and avoid any home remedies in any case.
posted by funambulist at 9:32 AM on January 5, 2006

Hate to harp on this, but as awesome and dramatic as cleaning the gunk from your ear canal is, it's not going to help you with pain from middle ear pressure.

The cross-section of your ear looks like this.

The middle ear is sealed off from the outside world by the eardrum. The eustachian tube runs from the middle ear to your sinuses, regulating changes in pressure. When that tube gets clogged, you can't regulate the middle ear pressure, putting tension on the eardrum, which hurts like a mofo. If given enough pressure, something will give... hopefully it's the blockage in the eustachian tube, but if it's the eardrum itself, you're entering a world of pain, my friend.

Your goal here is to open up that eustachian tube. The only good way to do that is though decongrestants and antihistamines. On the plane, you can also try the Valsala maneuver (close mouth, pinch nose, pretend you're trying to gently exhale through your ears).
posted by the jam at 9:37 AM on January 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sharing time... A few weeks ago my ears were clogged, but since they've always celared up in the past, I didn't pay it much mind. My doctor recommended Debrox. But after using it in one ear, I noticed some major hearing loss. Went back to the doctor, and he said, "Yeah, you've got a lot of wax in there." He proceeded to flush it out with a large, scary-looking metal syringe. Painless, but it just felt weird. He used this a few times, and each time, cleared out a LOT of wax. Then he checked again, and decided to use the Painful Device - basically, a metal wire with a loop on the end. This hurt. And even then, he didn't get it all. So I was referred to an Ear, Nose & Throat guy. He used a funky suction device and then the Painful Device (apparently, the pain was because the wax was on the ear drum). Afterward, he checked my hearing, and I had a little bit of loss in the upper range due to tinnitus. The ENT also recommeded to keep things clear, I use a mixture of mineral oil and hydrogen peroxide. When I told him I had the Debrox, he said, "Same thing."

Also another doctor (my brother's when he had a similar problem) says to valsalva - gently, but often.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:49 AM on January 5, 2006

Ear candling (sticking those burning tubes in your ears) is not a good idea. Cecil Adams says the same thing, too.
posted by ruddhist at 10:50 AM on January 5, 2006

Well, no warranty is made, expressed or implied - & I would never use a wax "ear candle" for the reasons discussed in the links by ruddhist, but what I can tell you from anecdotal experience (mine) is that the newspaper one did provide relief on occasion to me & mine. I'm pretty far from a new-age homeopathic type, so go figure. YMMV.
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:37 AM on January 5, 2006

If you're trying to balance the air pressure, and not flush out a bunch of stuff stuck in your ear, then I've found chewing gum to help out a lot. It seems to help move things around in the eustachian area. I always grab a pack of gum to chew on the plane.
posted by Mercaptan at 1:41 PM on January 5, 2006

Uh, and just FYI (since people are talking about sticking things in one's ears) the gum goes in your mouth, not your ears.
posted by Mercaptan at 1:41 PM on January 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

You people keep talking about Sudafed but I've jammed about six of them in there now and I don't feel a thing yet.

posted by Slap Incognito at 5:54 PM on January 5, 2006 [2 favorites]

Here's what you do: go see an Army recruiter and tell them you want to join the Army. When you go to get your physical, make sure you fail the hearing test. Badly. They will send you to the doctor for a free (I guess actually taxpayer-subsidized) ear lavage. As an added bonus, you can at that point not actually join the Army, so you get to skip all the basic training and actual being-in-the-military stuff.

Least that's what I did. Thanks, US Army!
posted by attercoppe at 7:41 PM on January 5, 2006 [2 favorites]

Go to the doctor. He will put a big syringe in your ear and squirt out all the crap. You will feel dizzy and naustious for a minute, but your hearing will be fine instantly.

1) Do not put things in your ear.
2) Do not set things on fire near your ear.
3) Do not squirt liquids in there.
4) Do not f@c# with your hearing.
posted by ewkpates at 4:33 AM on January 6, 2006

Depending how impacted the clog is, trying to syringe it out can be extremely painful. If you can't loosen the clog, then lay on your side, pour a few drops of olive oil in the ear, then plug it with a cotton wool puff, and lie there for a few minutes, to let the oil soak in. This softens up the wax, making syringing easier. Wait until the next day, or at least a few hours before syringing again. I use the little squirty bulb thing that comes with murine, and just fill it with plain old warm water.
posted by Joh at 7:54 PM on January 6, 2006

Backlink to a related (if frivolous) MeFi thread. Don't try this at home, kids!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:17 AM on January 7, 2006

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