Congested Ear Canal
November 19, 2004 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Remedies for opening up a congested ear canal? I've had a sinus/ear infection this week, and am currently taking both a decongestant and an antibiotic. My head seems to be clearing nicely, except my inner ear on one side which feels completely blocked. I'm trying hot compresses and steam. Are there any other suggested methods to clear this up at home?
posted by vers to Health & Fitness (22 answers total)
You could pick up some Debrox drops from the drug store. It's just an over-the-counter solution that comes with a little squeezy-bulb to help dissolve things in your ear.

Since you have an infection, though, it probably won't go deep enough to help anything. You might just have to wait it out.
posted by bcwinters at 8:26 AM on November 19, 2004

I believe it's your middle ear (otitis media), is it not? I had that about 6 years ago, and I dropped in at the hospital every morning, and the doctor forced a swab past the inflamed choke point and soaked up the excess pus. I starte doing it myself after a couple days, but it only lasted another day or two.
posted by planetkyoto at 8:26 AM on November 19, 2004

Plenty of fluids, continue the decongestant, and try to pop your ears/yawn, would be my very basic advice. It's your middle ear that's all clogged up, and your eustachian tubes are probably clogged too. When you yawn to try to pop your ears, you're contracting your salpingopharyngeus muscle to pull the tube open more.

Feel better soon!

on preview: pk's right; it's your middle ear, past your ear drum, so Debrox won't do anything. (ear anatomy) I'm not sure what pk's talking about with the swab, though--to get to the middle ear, if you go through the external ear, you have to go through the ear drum, which I doubt the doctor did.
posted by gramcracker at 8:31 AM on November 19, 2004

I am not a doctor nor do play one on TV, but this has worked for me in the past:

Try placing a bit of rubbing alcohol in the ear using an eyedropper. Allow the alcohol to remain in the ear for a minute or so and then tilt your head to drain it out. The alcohol can dissolve solids (gross, huh?) that may have collected in the canal and may also help disinfect inflammed portions of your ear. Alcohol can also allow fluids to more readily evaporate and can help to break surface tension by blending with whatever fluids you may have up there.

When I have done this, it also results in a pleasant warming of the ear, although I imagine there are situations in which it would burn. I have heard that mineral oil can also help.

Any medical professionals care to chime in?

Disclaimer: Always excercise caution when putting anything into the inner canal. Also, you may want to wait to see if a real physician adds a comment to this thread.
posted by mds35 at 8:35 AM on November 19, 2004

Get someone with an odoscope or a good eye to see if the ear has wax buildup in it. Often, when I have sinus problems, wax buildup exacerbates the problem. If there's wax, ear wax candles are much less traumatic and more effective than putting any kind of fluid in your ear.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:39 AM on November 19, 2004

As someone with teeny little Eustachian tubes, I know exactly what you're talking about--beyond the antibiotic and decongestant, there's not much you can do. Just make sure you're taking the right kind of decongestant--a strong one, and one that's meant to help sinus congestion (which has a lot to do with inflammation) and not just regular congestion.

One important--and hard-learned--point on "popping your ears". Make sure you only do it by yawning and stretching your jaws, letting pressure out, and _not_ by blowing hard through your nose (either on purpose, like when you pinch your nose and blow when a plane is landing, or by mistake, if you're just clearing your nose into a handkerchief).

Clearing pressure _into_ your inner ear can force bad things into the exact area you're trying to clear up, and set you back on the whole process of clearing up the infection. Blow your nose gently, when you do, and resist the temptation to help things along too aggressively.
posted by LairBob at 9:08 AM on November 19, 2004

Avoid heat. Heat = expansion. Use cold compresses on the side of your face, particularly on that lymph node under your jaw, and drink cold liquids.

Heat seems like it would be more soothing, and I grew up with screaming ear infections made worse by the hot water bottles I demanded. Ice actually works and feels much better.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:15 AM on November 19, 2004

Rubbing alcohol? I was under the impression that hydrogen pyroxide was the preferred you get that nice bubbly sound.
posted by rushmc at 9:25 AM on November 19, 2004

Ear wax candles have been demonstrated to do nothing. They look like they're doing something because when you end up, you have a waxy residue that looks like ear gunk, but if you burn the candle outside of your ear, you get the same thing.

Hydrogen peroxide is what the doctor recommended for me. Actually, he recommended mixing it half and half with warm water, but I just use it straight.
posted by anapestic at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2004

Again, doing stuff for your external ear, as far as I've been taught, won't do much of anything. This is vers's middle ear. See illustration above.
posted by gramcracker at 9:56 AM on November 19, 2004

Try a spray decongestant (like Afrin or Neosynephrine-generic brands are fine) but for no more than a couple of days. Drinking lots of fluids and breathing warm, humid air will help loosen any secretions that are clogging your eustacian tubes and/or sinuses.
posted by TedW at 10:51 AM on November 19, 2004

It may help to take a nap laying on the side opposite your stuffed ear. In theory, you relax and let gravity help you drain the tube. This usually helps me at least a little.

When both ears are stuffy, try to sleep on your back with your head and shoulders elevated.
posted by whatnot at 10:52 AM on November 19, 2004

I can't tell from what vers says which part of his or her ear is messed up. It's probably not the inner ear, as it says in the question, but it isn't necessarily the middle ear. In my experience, problems with the external canal (which is, after all, inside your body) can lead to a feeling of congestion (and a not insignificant amount of pain). Treating the external ear with hydrogen peroxide shouldn't hurt anything and may provide some relief.
posted by anapestic at 10:57 AM on November 19, 2004

When I've had ear problems, I find murine ear drops help a lot. The fizzing sensation is neat. I use these for a while (maybe 1 or 2 days), then I will flush my ear with a syringe bulb. If I use it hard enough (probably NOT reccomendable, but when you're in paid, you'll do what it takes) I often find a TON of impacted wax is removed, and my hearing improves markedly, along with the pain slowly subsiding. Again, this isn't reccomended, but if you point the syringe just right, and your problem is wax, you'll find a certain position causes the water to move beyond the wax. Do this once or twice and it'll fall out in a LARGE lump (for me, the size of a jelly belly jelly bean).

You must use either those drops, or warm non-scented baby oil to soften the wax up first, if you plan to remove the wax, though. It'll never come out otherwise. But your problem may not be related to wax. Mine was -- mostly the pain is due to infection and inflammation caused by the impacted wax.

I do this every few years. HTH.
posted by shepd at 11:13 AM on November 19, 2004

Response by poster: I want to thank all of you for the helpful suggestions - you're a kind and caring bunch. I should have been more specific as to the location of my discomfort; the congestion is definitely internal, either in the Eustachian tube or the middle ear or both. It's not painful at this point, but the pressure and ringing is a bit batty-making. I've added Afrin and breathing steam more often, and will try to be patient in hopes it's on the way to clearing up. Thank you!
posted by vers at 11:35 AM on November 19, 2004


Seriously. Just take a clove of garlic, and cut off the end. Stick it in your ear (don't force it in, just enough so it'll stay), and it will help wick out a lot of gunk. Also, garlic is astringent and mildly antibiotic.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:42 PM on November 19, 2004

Response by poster: I might try that just for the novelty, dirtynumbangelboy!
posted by vers at 1:02 PM on November 19, 2004

I'm currently under treatment for the exact thing, vers. I had a cold/allergies, and one ear started feeling all stuffy. The cold went away, but the stuffy ear did not. I tried the ear-cleaning regimen of hydrogen peroxide and the soft-bulb syringe thingy, to no avail.

So I went to the doctor. She confirmed that there was no ear wax, and no infection, but that, yes, the Eustachian tube wasn't draining. She conceded that such a thing can be hard to treat. She gave me pills that are a combo anti-histamine/Sudaphed mix, and Nasorel, a steroid nasal spray, and told me to stay on them for three weeks.

That was three weeks ago today. The stuffiness returns when I don't take the pills, still. So I guess I have another doctor's visit to schedule.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:19 PM on November 19, 2004

Response by poster: Ouches, MrMoonPie - I'm not at all certain my patience can last 3 more days, never mind 3 weeks. However, I'm grateful for you sharing the information with me. I'd be appreciative for any updates you might have as well. I do hope it clears up very soon for you.

(just wants to be able to listen to music with both ears again)
posted by vers at 1:55 PM on November 19, 2004

I might try that just for the novelty, dirtynumbangelboy!

Heh. It really does work, so long as you don't do what a friend of mine did--try and cram the whole clove of garlic into his ear. Sigh.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:53 PM on November 19, 2004

Olive oil. It's just as effective as any over-the-counter medicine and much cheaper. IANAD but I wouldn't dream of putting alcohol in my precious ears! (I'm a musician).
posted by cbrody at 4:40 PM on November 19, 2004

For what it's worth, I too just went through the same thing, and tried all sorts of combinations of the above mentioned: sleeping on the heating pad, peroxide in the ears, even gave into the temptation of popping them, which wasn't a good idea at all. Only thing that helped was time and patience, and those blessed antibiotics, and a general decongestant. At least you didn't follow my amazing lead and try to 'wait it out' for half a week before going to the doctor's.
posted by Meagan at 5:11 PM on November 19, 2004

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