Have you ever had a stuffy nose and felt like your ears were going to pop? That’s because of the eustachian tubes. But what is the eustachian tube and how does it work? Read on to find out!
The Sinus-Ear Connection
Your ears and sinuses are connected! This is the reason your ears feel plugged when you have nasal congestion. The tube connecting the two is called a eustachian tube.
The eustachian tube is located in the region between the ears and the nose. It serves as a pathway connecting the back of the nasal passages to the middle ear. Its main function is to keep the pressure in the middle ear balanced with the atmospheric pressure outside. It also helps to drain fluid and mucus from the middle ear.
When the Eustachian tube becomes blocked, it can result in ear pressure, discomfort or pain and muffled hearing.. Blocked tubes can be caused by allergies, a cold, or a sinus infection.
What to Do to Unclog Ears from Congestion
Identifying the underlying cause is important in order to alleviate the blockage and relieve symptoms. Treating the underlying cause, such as allergies, a cold, or a stuffy nose can often help unclog your ears.
Nasal irrigation with a neti pot can be used as an effective tool to flush nasal passages of allergens, dust, particles, and mucus. Additionally, over-the-counter decongestants and nasal sprays help to reduce inflammation in nasal passages, allowing nasal cavities to open and thus unblocking the Eustachian tube and clear the ear. It’s important to follow your physician’s advice about the dosage of decongestants and nasal sprays to ensure proper use.
For those with more severe, chronic cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to clear blockages. An Otolaryngologist can place a tube in the eardrum to drain the ear. In some cases, the eustachian tube is enlarged using a balloon technique.
Tips to Prevent Stuffy Ears
To prevent your ears from becoming stuffy on a plane, drink water and sit up. Leaning forward can reduce your ears ability to naturally drain. Try swallowing, yawning or chewing gum. Some people who have chronic ear problems with altitude changes will take nasal decongestants a few days before their trip to avoid stuffy ears. Always blow your nose gently, blowing through one nostril at a time to avoid backing up the pressure you create into your ears.
How can I decongest my ears naturally?
If swallowing, yawning or chewing gum does not work to unclog your ears, try equalizing the pressure with the following technique. Close your mouth, plug your nose and gently try to blow through your nose. If you hear a pop, you know you have successfully cleared your ears.
Can congested ears decongest by themselves?
Often, your eustachian tube will do the job of decongesting your ears naturally as your cold or allergies subsides.
When to See a Doctor
If your blocked ears lead to ear pain, significant hearing loss or last more than 2 weeks, you should see a doctor. Your physician may refer you to an Audiologist for ear pressure and hearing tests and/or an Otolaryngologist for specialty treatment.