Ear congestion is usually caused by a blocked Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tubes connect the middle ears to the back of the throat, and they can get clogged due to various reasons. Some of the most common conditions that can clog the Eustachian tubes and cause ear congestion are briefly discussed in this article.
Ear congestion gives a stuffy or full sensation in the ear, but usually does not cause pain. However, it can be accompanied by crackling or popping noises and muffled hearing. This condition is usually caused by blocked Eustachian tubes.
The Eustachian tube is a small tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat, near the nasal passage. The main functions of this tube are to ventilate the middle ear, maintain pressure inside the ear, and drain the accumulated fluid and debris from the middle ear. When this tube gets blocked, the ear can become congested and stuffy.
As mentioned already, congestion in the ear is usually caused by the blockage of the Eustachian tube, especially if it is accompanied by cold and flu-like symptoms, or develops after an episode of cold or upper respiratory infection. Children are more prone to develop this condition, as their Eustachian tubes are much narrower, horizontal, and located closer to the nasal opening.
Sometimes, excess fluid can build up in the middle ear due to the blockage of the Eustachian tube.
Besides producing a sensation of fullness in the ear and muffled hearing, this can eventually cause an infection of the middle ear or otitis media. If infection develops, one can experience ear pain and swelling, along with the sensation of fullness.
Even allergies and hay fever can cause ear congestion at times. A sudden and dramatic change in air pressure, which happens during air travel and scuba diving can also produce a sensation of fullness in the ear. If the change in air pressure is extreme, the eardrums can rupture, which is known as barotrauma.
An infection of the sinuses or sinusitis can also cause congestion in the ear, along with nasal congestion. Sometimes, earwax can accumulate inside the ear and give the feeling of fullness or congestion. Apart from these, obstruction of the Eustachian tube by an enlarged adenoid, mastoiditis, Meniere’s disease, and swimmer’s ear can be associated with this condition.
The treatment basically depends on the underlying causes. Nevertheless, a few simple remedies have been found to be very effective in clearing up the congestion, especially if it is not severe. These remedies are explained below:
Activities like swallowing and yawning are known to regulate the functions of the Eustachian tubes. Therefore, these activities can relieve ear congestion. Even stretching the back of your throat can help open up the Eustachian tubes. Chewing gum is another excellent way to clear up ear congestion. Likewise, young children can be given lollipops or candies to suck on, in order to relieve ear congestion.
You can also open up the Eustachian tubes forcibly by taking a deep breath and then trying to blow out, while pinching your nose and keeping your mouth closed. The resulting pressure on the Eustachian tube will help open it up. To prevent ear congestion during air travel, try to swallow and yawn when the plane takes off and lands. Otherwise, you can place cotton plugs in the ear to prevent popping of the ears due to a sudden change in atmospheric pressure.
If the Eustachian tubes are blocked due to the accumulation of mucus, then consider to increase your fluid intake. Drink plenty of water, and vegetable or chicken soup and broth throughout the day. It can help thin the mucus and ensure its proper drainage.
Steam inhalation can also thin the mucus, and clear up your nasal passage and blocked Eustachian tubes. This can relieve the congestion in the ear as well. Just run the hot shower in the bathroom, and sit there with the door closed for half an hour. Otherwise, you can fill a bowl with boiling water and inhale the steam.
If ear congestion is caused by the fluid trapped in the Eustachian tube, you can take the help of gravity. Just lie down on your side with the congested ear facing down. Rest your head on a pillow, and remain in that position for an hour or so. The gravity can help clear the congestion by pulling the fluid out of your ear.
If ear congestion is associated with nasal congestion, then decongestants can provide relief. These medications can help drain the mucus accumulated in the nasal cavity and the Eustachian tubes. However, do not use decongestant nasal sprays continuously for more than three days, as they can cause rebound congestion. If the congestion is caused by an infection, then appropriate antibiotics can be required for treating this condition.
If allergies are responsible for causing frequent ear congestion, antihistamines can be required for treating this condition. But if the congestion is caused by hardened earwax, you can use baby oil or a medicated ear drop prescribed by your physician to soften the earwax.
If you experience ear pain, severe swelling, drainage of pus from the ear, fever, headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), and redness and warmth around the ear, consider to seek medical attention. Talk to your physician, and follow his or her advice regarding the use of medications and the various remedies. Never put anything in your ear without confirming with your health care provider.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.