General Question

rhiain's avatar

How do I relieve ear congestion?

Asked by rhiain (1points) November 25th, 2008

I had an ear infection that’s cleared up with antiobiotics. Unfortunately, after flying on an airplane yesterday, my ear is completely clogged. I can’t hear out of it, and it’s driving me nuts.

Normally I’d seen an ENT for an extraction, but I’m not at home and everywhere is closed or booked this week for Thanksgiving. I know it’s just mucous in there. Anyone have any suggestions for how to clear it up?

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10 Answers

shilolo's avatar

Get yourself some debrox at the local pharmacy if the issue is ear wax (or other debris). For inner ear issues, I suggest a decongestant, like Sudafed.

FYI, I’m a doctor, for what its worth.

rhiain's avatar

Would debrox work for mucous too?

hearkat's avatar

What kind of infection did you have (outer, middle, or inner ear), and what kind of antibiotics were you taking (oral and/or ear drops). How long ago did you finish the antibiotics?

When you mention mucus, typically that refers to middle ear congestion so Debrox will not help. Debrox is for softening ear wax and ototic debris in the external ear canal.

If you have a perforation of your eardrum, the mucus and pus can drain from the ear. If you have a discharge from the ear, you shouldn’t put anything in your ear unless it has been prescribed for you following an examination.

If you have middle ear congestion, decongestants such as Sudafed (available at the pharmacy counter without a prescription) can be helpful although some studies have suggested that it actually does not help, especially for those with chronic middle ear infections. Mucinex (guaifenisen) may also help loosen the mucus to aid in drainage.

You may want to find a local walk-in clinic for an examination if you are unable to see your family Dr. or ENT. This is especially important if you have any pain or fever that might suggest a recurrence of the infection.

FYI- I’m an audiologist.

rhiain's avatar

It’s in my middle ear – the running theory is that I got something in there while swimming last summer, and it’s been inflaming my ear periodically since then. This is the third infection since July (after having them… never). After this one finally clears up, the ENT is going to take a look in there to see what he can do for a more permanent fix, but right now there’s too much gunk to see anything.

I finished the antibiotics about a week and a half ago. There hasn’t been any pain in the ear or draining for about two weeks, even during the flight, just this plugged-up feeling. I’ve been taking Mucinex, but it doesn’t seem to be helping too much. Last time I was at the ENT he mentioned that I don’t have a lot of wax even in my “good” ear, so I’m pretty sure that isn’t it.

I know this is probably just a wait-it-out kind of thing, but I’m visiting my family for the first time in a long time and I’d like to be able to hear them, darn it.

cdwccrn's avatar

Try some decongestants.

hearkat's avatar

Considering these details, your case is more involved than the congestion that many people feel after flying.

I suggest contacting your ENT to see if they can phone or fax a new prescription to a pharmacy near you. I know the holidays are coming up, but explain to the receptionist that you are concerned about the possibility of your condition getting worse if it goes untreated, and that they request the Dr. call you.

You might also try calling your pharmacy to ascertain the names and dosage of the medications you were taking, and also check if refills are availabe. Explain your travel scenario to them to see if perhaps they can contact the Dr. to request a refill that you can pick-up at an affiliated pharmacy where you are visiting.

At the very least, if you must see a local Dr. at a walk-in center, you will be able to give them the exact medication information.

Good Luck… I hope you are able to get some help and feel better soon!

daisy's avatar

My daughter got inner ear infections constantly as a child. The MD had her on Benadryl around the clock to dry out the inner ear. She would do a round or 2 of antibiotics but there would still be fluid in her inner ear after the infection had cleared. This can make you tired though but it would help you to take it at night. (plus at the very least it would help you sleep since dipenhydramine aka Benadryl is the active ingredient in all over the counter sleeping pills). Another thing he had her do was to plug her nose and hold her breath and make a forceful motion, sort of like you were trying to push the air out of your ears. It’s hard to explain but it always worked to unplug her ears. She would do it repeatedly throughout the day and eventually her ears unplugged.

hearkat's avatar

In regards to Daisy’s suggestion of the Val Salva maneuver (holding your nose and blowing):
That is helpful if the problem is Eustachian tube dysfunction that prevents the air pressure behind the eardrum from equalizing with the air in the environment (which causes that “in an airplane” feeling).

However, your case appears more complex. In some cases, forcing pressure through the Eustachian tube can exacerbate your symptoms, such as by pushing more mucus up into the middle ear, or even potentially rupturing the eardrum (or other delicate membranes in the ear).
If you hear popping or feel a little relief when yawning or swallowing, you might consider trying it, but be VERY GENTLE when blowing.

daisy's avatar

Yes, she did this only after the MD confirmed it was fluid, not mucous in her eustachian tubes. Rhiain did say her infection was completely cleared up prior to getting on the plane so this does sound to me like a air pressure/equalizing problem. I had the same thing once when I flew after having a sinus infection. I couldn’t hear for 2 days. My ears finally ‘popped’. That said, it is always safer to follow up with your doctor rather than online/free and sometimes incorrect medical advice.

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