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How to unclog stuffy ears

It’s ragweed season—the time of year rife with runny noses, sore throats and stuffy ears. You may be dealing with a river of mucus from postnasal drip, but why do your ears become clogged?

“Stuffy ears are caused by sinus inflammation or sinus pressure pushing on the inside of your ear sinuses, which causes a clogged sensation,” says Vikash Modi, M.D., a family medicine physician at Piedmont. “Most people don't realize their sinuses are all connected—from the nasal passage to the ears and down the back of your throat.”

So how do you get rid of stuffy ears? Dr. Modi shares a few tips:

1. Get a humidifier. “Humidity and moisture are a great way to treat sinus inflammation or irritation,” says Dr. Modi. “Try sleeping with a humidifier in your room. To benefit from additional moisture, you can also stand in a nice warm shower.”

2. Use a saline mist or nasal spray. Pollen, dust and bacteria cause the sinuses to dry out. A good saline mist or nasal spray can provide much-needed moisture.   

“It’s what I describe to my patients like pressure washing your back deck,” says Dr. Modi. “These nasal sprays literally wash the pollen and the dust off at the surface so you have a nice clear surface that will be less reactive and less congested.”

If your symptoms don’t subside, consider using an over-the-counter nasal steroid spray like Nasonex or Flonase.

3. Consider a decongestant. “When things are getting more severe you can add a nasal decongestant, like Afrin,” says Dr. Modi. “But you’ve got to be careful. Just take it for two or three days at a time and then take a break from it, because it can be habit-forming.”

Dr. Modi says this is also true for pill decongestants like Sudafed or Allegra D.

“These medicines are great short-term therapies for really bad sinus pressure and ear clog symptoms, but after two or three days you should probably think about taking a break from them,” he says.

4. Avoid caffeine, salt, tobacco and alcohol. “These things can affect your circulation and make the congestion feel worse,” says Dr. Modi.

5. Check for wax. A large wax buildup can lead to clogged ears.  

“For that, we recommend a regular routine cleaning system,” says Dr. Modi. “Take a shower, let some of the warm water run into your ears and then dry the ear with a wet wash cloth. Try not to  use a Q-tip, because that can actually pack wax in more than pull it out.

When to see the doctor

If your ear clog sensation turns into ear pain, or if the pain in your head or face becomes severe, it is best to see your doctor.

“Anyone who has a fever or severe swelling and congestion after three or four days of home treatment should come in and have it checked out,” says Dr. Modi.

To find a physician in your area, check out our Find a Doc directory.



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