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Plugged ears can be the result of many things, including an excessive amount of built-up earwax, a cold or sinus infection, or even allergies. A cold, infection, or allergies can make a person feel as if his or her ears are plugged even if they actually are not. Sometimes, particularly when a person regularly sticks something in his or her ear, such as cotton swabs and earplugs, the wax builds up enough to plug the ears. In some cases, the clogged ears eventually cure themselves. Other cases may require a doctor to clean the ears or prescribe a treatment.
The common cold and allergies can cause plugged ears, thereby muffling sounds and sometimes causing pain. While an ear infection is possible, sometimes it is only the symptom of a cold. This problem is normally temporary and goes away on its own within hours to a couple weeks. A nasal spray or oral decongestants can usually provide temporary relief, though it is generally recommended to see a doctor if the clog seems severe or does not go away within a few weeks.
Doctors generally agree that sticking cotton swabs or anything else in the ear is a bad idea. Earwax protects the inner ear, and when it is removed, the ear becomes itchy. This itchy feeling tends to make people believe their ears need more cleaning, and the cycle continues. Some people naturally produce too much wax, in which case a regular cleaning by a doctor or a home remedy approved by a doctor is probably necessary. Otherwise, the wax will continue to build up until sounds are muffled or the person is near or completely deaf in the affected ear.
An ear infection can also cause plugged ears, muffled sounds, and fluid coming from the ears. In young children, an ear infection should probably be suspected if the child pulls at his or her ears or does not seem to hear well. Many ear infections go away on their own, but seeing a doctor is usually advisable, especially if there is pain or a history of ear infections.
Occasionally, people get plugged ears and a doctor cannot correctly diagnose the cause. Sometimes the actual cause eludes the person for years, meanwhile leaving him or her with limited hearing. In this case, persistence in getting a correct diagnosis and treatments that relieve the block at least a little are usually recommended.