Help me hear clear through my ear
April 10, 2005 10:07 AM   Subscribe

I have a head cold and my left ear has been out of commission since I woke up this morning. Any tried and true methods for "opening up" and ear drum?

I've tried holding my nose and blowing, but that just made it worse. I also tried pouring a vinegar-rubbing alcohol solution in there which was entirely ineffective. I'm out of ideas.
posted by Crushinator to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
oop, that should say "an" ear drum
posted by Crushinator at 10:09 AM on April 10, 2005

The problem is known as Eustachian Tube Dysfunction.

What's happened. You have a cold. Because of this, the mucous membranes of the ear, nose and throat are swollen.

This has the Eustachian tube blocked. Thus, your ear can't equalize pressure. Soon, if a vacuum persists, it fill with fluid.

If the Valsalva maneuver isn't working, then you are pretty much stuck for now -- the tissues are so swollen that no air can pass. You can try antihistamines (Benadryl is the traditional first line med) to reduce the swelling, which may lead to either a full opening, or at least let you equalize periodically.

Finally, unless you really like pain, consider yourself on the no-fly list until your ear starts to open. For that matter, going up into the mountains (or, if you already live there, coming back down) isn't such a great idea either.
posted by eriko at 10:20 AM on April 10, 2005

I have an allergist friend who suggests pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and Afrin nasal spray. I've had success with this method. Don't stay on either for more than a few days, though.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:29 AM on April 10, 2005

Combining the drugs with a good, honest yawn sometimes does the trick.
posted by maschnitz at 10:55 AM on April 10, 2005

I suggest Neo-Synephrine, which is another nasal spray. If you have trouble tolerating even tiny doses of Benadryl and Sudafed (like I do), this is the remedy for you.
posted by elisabeth r at 11:21 AM on April 10, 2005

Steamy air (hot shower, dawdling over a mug of hot tea, etc.) often works for me. Presumably it softens or loosens some of the goo in my tubes. Staying well-hydrated in general is a good idea too of course.
posted by hattifattener at 11:30 AM on April 10, 2005

Similar to hattifattener's advice - wet a hand towel (or similar), wring it out and heat it up in the microwave. Be careful and don't get it too hot. Lie down with your ear down on the towel. You may have to try it a couple times to get it to work.
posted by deborah at 12:41 PM on April 10, 2005

Thanks everyone for your suggestions. The Benadryl helped the ear some and also made me very, very sleepy so that I stopped worrying about it.
posted by Crushinator at 2:42 PM on April 10, 2005

Decongestants, while intuitively apparently useful for ETD, do not work in controlled studies. Persistent middle-ear fluid collections from ETD are best treated with nasal corticosteroids (flonase, nasonex, etc.), and/or gentle valsalva (auto-insufflation).
posted by docpops at 7:09 PM on April 10, 2005

Something I didn't notice on the wikipedia valsalva page (though mentioned above by docpops) is how very important it is to build up the pressure slowly when trying to clear your eustachian. If you're too rude to it, you'll be having ear twinges for days.

It's sooo satisfying clearing it that way though
posted by Aknaton at 10:19 PM on April 10, 2005

eriko probably has it, but let me offer another possiblity: your ear may be blocked with accumulated wax. This happened to me. I didn't think anything of it at first. I drove up a hill and my ear blocked and I couldn't unblock it coming back down. Didn't seem any different, at first, from the dozens of times this has happened before - except that no matter what I tried, I couldn't get it to "pop."

After a couple of days (convinced it would pop at any moment but slowly going insane) I went to the doctor who removed a wax plug the size of an small olive from my ear. I've never been so happy to pay someone $80 in my life.
posted by zanni at 11:32 PM on April 10, 2005

I asked a similar question in this space some time ago. Congestion is a variant but the issues are the same.
posted by werty at 10:32 AM on April 11, 2005

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