Help with sinus ear pressure
October 23, 2008 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I have ear sinus pressure, muffled hearing, and general discomfort in one of my ears. Help me find some relief until my doctor's appointment.

About 2 weeks ago, sound in my left ear started to sound muffled. I'd experienced this i nthe past once or twice before, and had gone to the ENT and just had some wax removed (from overuse of Q-tips). I figured this was the case now, and so I went to my campus health services, where the doctor told me my ears looked clean, it was likely a sinus issue, and some Sudafed would clear it up.

Yesterday it had been about 2 weeks since this started -- and after taking Sudafed -- it had not gone away. For whatever reason, I felt like it had gotten slightly worse, and tried some earwax drops to see if it did anything. Well, all it seemed to do was create even more pressure in my ear, and even more trouble hearing anything. Since yesterday, my ear has felt full with liquid, completely muffled, and incredibly uncomfortable.

When I burp or yawn, it opens up a bit for a few seconds. I called and scheduled an appointment with an ENT on Monday, but this is making me mental, and was wondering a. is there anything I can safely try to relieve the pressure until Monday, and b. what procedure(s) is the doctor likely to try?

posted by rbf1138 to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Grab your earlobe and pull it downward and outward. That can help open up the magic tubes that drain your ear. Try putting some warm olive oil in there and letting it sit for a bit, too.
posted by paanta at 2:01 PM on October 23, 2008

You probably have serous otitis media (serous=watery, as opposed to pus-y). I have my patients use Afrin Nasal Spray, although it may or may not do a lot more than Sudafed. One caveat with Afrin is to not use it for more than 5 or 6 days consecutively, or you nose will start running like a fire hydrant.

Chewing gum can help to work fluid out of the middle ear by milking it down the eustachian tube. Buy at least two packs of sugarless gum.
posted by neuron at 2:01 PM on October 23, 2008

Afrin: use it for 4 days, then not for 2 days, then use for 4 more days.
posted by neuron at 2:02 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

:( I had been in this situation before, and it's not pleasant! If Sudafed isn't working, there's never been anything that I can do to help in the short-term. 2 weeks sounds like a long time, so now you are also at risk of getting an ear infection. Can you call the ENT back and ask to get squeezed in earlier?

(PS, campus health services are generally pretty terrible, but if you can't see the ENT sooner you might want to go back and complain. Tell them Sudafed ISN'T clearing it up and you want a better diagnosis or something).

On preview: does Afrin really help with ear congestion? I've never even thought to try it for that!
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on October 23, 2008

Sinuses are a pain. In the past two years both my girlfriend and myself have suffered to different degrees. I've tried lots of things - all over the counter type therapies, but from pharmaceutical to more alternative. But I really don't suffer too badly except for the muffled hearing and the occasional night when I wake with some weird caustic (or maybe acidic) nasal drip in my throat that nothing will shift. My poor girlfriend suffers much more from it than me - she's gone through the same therapies, plus many visits to the local doctor for sprays and antibiotics, and two surgery procedures - one to flush the sinuses and the second to widen the nasal passages (I think, I'm not a doctor). In her case she has improved a lot in the last few months from increasing the distance she runs - she always did some jogging but now runs about 30 to 40 miles per week. She also occasionally uses some sort of salt water/saline bottle that she sprays up her nose. She doesn't seem to like it much, and it isn't pretty, but it seems to work a little.

I started running 4 weeks ago. I've got out for a few gentle miles almost every night in the last month. I've noticed a big improvement. When I started I was not competing in any races, or pushing mysef to the limit. Just break a sweat, raise the heartbeat, and when you it feels like too much walk fast for too minutes. That helps to get a lot of gunge out.

Good luck, I hope you get sorted soon.
posted by Elmore at 2:10 PM on October 23, 2008

What you have sounds a lot like what I have when I get a sinus/ear infection. The afrin has helped me before while I'm waiting for the antibiotics to kick in. You might also try a neti pot to wash out your sinuses with warm salt water. I do this every few days to help with the allergies that lead to the sinus/ear infections and it tends to help get things moving.
posted by *s at 2:16 PM on October 23, 2008

Thanks for the quick suggestions...Up until yesterday, I could pop my ears and have some relief for up to a minute by holding the lobe down. Now, it doesn't open at all. I've been using a sinus rinse for my nose that has worked well, but that hasn't cleared the ear problem. I also have the ringing when it's quiet around me...this wont lead to hearing loss, will it? I'm praying that somehow this can be flushed/vacuumed out or something on Monday...I can't imagine having to deal with this for that much longer.
posted by rbf1138 at 2:16 PM on October 23, 2008

I had an outer/middle ear infection a couple of months ago that started like this (the lead time was much shorter, though). If it turns into a similar infection, you aren't going to be able to wait until Monday to see a doctor. Just be prepared; if the pain becomes significantly worse, you need to insist that a doctor see you sooner, or find one who will. A wick in the ear and some antibiotic drops and it'll improve within hours.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:23 PM on October 23, 2008

Try Mucinex
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:24 PM on October 23, 2008

Seconding the Mucinex. It is an expectorant which will help unclog things. The generic ingredient is guaifenesin. If you buy a generic, try to get one that has only the guaifenesin. It will do wonders on its own. I used to get sinus infections on a regular basis and was given an antibiotic, 800mg ibuprofen pills, decongestant, and gauaifenesin. Self medicating with the last three might just prevent the need for the antibiotic.
posted by kgbrion at 2:54 PM on October 23, 2008

Oh, and don't forget to drink lots and lots of liquids if you use Mucinex with a decongestant, otherwise they won't work as well.
posted by kgbrion at 2:56 PM on October 23, 2008

Does that remedy look safe and/or effective?
posted by rbf1138 at 3:00 PM on October 23, 2008

Pinch your nose shut, close your mouth, and "sneeze." This will take care of the pressure. I'm not making this up; my audiologist told me to do it.
posted by desjardins at 3:08 PM on October 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Does that remedy look safe and/or effective?

The Neti pot in that link is good, but the SinuPulse is even better.
posted by caddis at 3:18 PM on October 23, 2008

Blow up some balloons (doctor's advice that helped me avoid surgery when I was a wee, ear infection-prone lass).
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 3:23 PM on October 23, 2008

I actually have the NeilMed sinus rinse, which is basically a netipot. It's helped with my nasal congestion thus far. As far as the sneeze thing, I've already tried the hold the nose and blow to relieve the pressure, like when you'd get off an airplane, but this is different than that.
posted by rbf1138 at 3:32 PM on October 23, 2008

You probably know this from the discomfort, but don't force your ears to pop if they're feeling blocked!

Similar to Elmore's running suggestion, I've found swimming does wonder for me, but only when things are at a mild stage. After a long swim (or, ew, during) and a sauna, I can suddenly clear my sinuses blowing my nose, and it feels good for the next few days.

Converting that into useful advice, have you tried steam to clear your head? Towel over your head, bowl of boiling water, eucalpytus oil optional, breathe in deep and have a stack of tissues on hand.
posted by carbide at 4:20 PM on October 23, 2008

NeilMed also makes a squeeze bottle (I use it) , but if you're plugged, it can do more harm than good. Make sure you are unplugged prior to use.
posted by 6:1 at 4:21 PM on October 23, 2008

i finally bought one of those bulb things used to suck the snot out of baby ears. filled with warm water and gently flush. it feels marvelous and has always worked for me. but if your ears are full like behind the ear drum or whatever, maybe not. i'd go see a doc honestly.
posted by Soulbee at 4:32 PM on October 23, 2008

Rest your ear on a warm source like a heating pad or hot water bottle. This can help a lot.
posted by Riverine at 5:37 PM on October 23, 2008

Oh, my ears can become sticky snot storage silos. Hurts! My ENT gave me an Rx for Duratuss G to take as soon as my ears start to clog.

Duratuss is just an expectorant. It's supposed to be good for chest congestion, but if I take it as soon as my ears tubes get sticky I can completely prevent an ear infection. If a clog really takes hold, it always takes a few days of decongestants and Duratuss to Liquid Plumber on through that goo.

Good luck! I know it's no fun.
posted by 26.2 at 5:42 PM on October 23, 2008

Yes, do give Mucinex-D a try.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:26 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wake with some weird caustic (or maybe acidic) nasal drip in my throat that nothing will shift.

I get that due to seasonal allergies, and take Herb Pharme brand Nettle Extract for it. (Available at Whole Foods, and many health food stores.) Conventional antihistamines also work, but I don't get any side effects from the nettle.

posted by sebastienbailard at 8:43 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am going to echo what desjardins wrote--the stuffiness that you feel in your ear is because of "clogged" eustachian tubes that drain the inner ear to the throat/sinuses. This could be due to any number of reasons but most likely is because of inflammation from a cold or some other upper respiratory tract infection.

When this happens to me, I try to block my nostrils, close my mouth, and apply back pressure by sneezing. Drinking fluids (especially chicken soup/brothy soups) keeps the mucous thin and can allow the gunk to drain out easier.

Avoid the q-tips--it's tempting to stick them in your ear canal but they can cause more damage than they're worth.
posted by scalespace at 9:29 PM on October 23, 2008

FWIW, I've had good luck laying or sleeping with the affected ear on a hot water bottle (with a towel in between so you don't burn your skin.)
posted by small_ruminant at 10:17 PM on October 23, 2008

And an ibuprofen. For some reason that often helps.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:18 PM on October 23, 2008

I am currently being treated for symptoms that sound remarkably similar to yours. I already had my first ENT visit, at which time I was prescribed the following:

- Use Neti pot 2x/daily
- Squirt Nasonex, aka mometasone (a nasal allergy spray), twice in each nostril, 2x/daily
- Take Dicloxacillin, aka dynapen (a penicillin family bacteria-fighting antibiotic) 2x/daily

I've followed the treatment plan the past three weeks and just had a sinus CT scan earlier this week, to be followed next week with a hearing test and a follow-up with the ENT doc. I've had the Nasonex for some time but umwhoops, hadn't been using it regularly. As in Regularly. That alone has made such a difference in my ability to breath through my nose stop some of the ear crackling/popping. I've also found some temporary relief by standing face-forward under a hot shower. A heating pad might have a similar effect if you can stand being a padface for shortish amounts of time.

Of course, YMMV (the doc you see might have a better/different treatment for your needs, etc.) but I wish you better health and soon.
posted by mcbeth at 12:05 AM on October 24, 2008

Riverine: Rest your ear on a warm source like a heating pad or hot water bottle. This can help a lot.

My mother always said NEVER to use dry heat such as a heating pad. Moist heat only!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:58 AM on October 24, 2008

I actually have the NeilMed sinus rinse, which is basically a netipot. It's helped with my nasal congestion thus far. As far as the sneeze thing, I've already tried the hold the nose and blow to relieve the pressure, like when you'd get off an airplane, but this is different than that.

I have the NeilMed bottle, which works a lot better (gentle pressure, instead of just gravity). Keep in mind that neti pot use, and the use of similar devices, can lead to ear infection if you don't tilt your head to each side and gently blow the liquid out of your sinuses after use, because liquid/snottiness/stuff can drip down your earish parts. It even says this on the informational packet! So, even though I love sinus irrigators, it's feasible that using this is contributing to what's going on with your ears.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:41 AM on October 24, 2008

i feel your pain. i've been dealing with this for months and months and months. my doc hasn't seen any earwax buildup or sign of infection. i should probably go to an ent...

but, definitely do the steam treatment. boiling water in a bowl, head over it, towel over your head and the bowl. not only will it clear things out for a bit, it's great for your pores!

and take to heart the advice about not using the decongestant nose sprays for more than 3-4 days in a row. you could get rebound congestion.

AND, if you DO have infection, you should stop using the neti pot. i don't know if it's REALLY true, but i have heard that it can push the infection into other parts of your sinuses, if you use the pot while infected.

and if you find a magic cure, be sure to let me know!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:08 AM on October 24, 2008

AND, if you DO have infection, you should stop using the neti pot

Specifically because I'd read similar things here on MeFi about infection and Neti pots, I asked the ENT I saw three weeks ago about that. His response was that if a Neti pot isn't cleaned thoroughly after use it is possible that bacteria could grow on the container itself but very unlikely that the contents from a clean Neti pot would exacerbate an infection.

I forgot to mention this in my previous response.
posted by mcbeth at 11:16 AM on October 24, 2008

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