Thar' she blows
April 27, 2005 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Frequently when I blow my nose, my ear will pop. Immediately following my ear popping I feel extremely faint, I've never passed out as a result, but certainly feel light headed enough that I've thought that I might. Does this happen to anyone else? Is there anything I can do to alleviate the light headed feeling?
posted by TuxHeDoh to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
I have had similar happen to me. For me it's because I have too much waxy buildup from allergies in my ears. OTC ear cleaners have helped me in the past. If the OTC ear cleaners don't the trick your PCP has a way of cleaning out your ears but it isn't pleasant
posted by Justin Case at 12:41 PM on April 27, 2005

You are triggering a vaso-vegal response, in which your blood pressure briefly drops to almost nothing and starves your brain for oxygen. It's the same thing that happened to President Bush a few years ago when he choked on a pretzel and passed out. It used to happen to me frequently as a teenager, but not so much anymore. I am not a doctor, but at least in my case it was nothing particular to worry about.
posted by Lokheed at 12:58 PM on April 27, 2005

Tux, check this out, it may help you
posted by matteo at 1:10 PM on April 27, 2005

My ears pop these days when I unconsciously think about ear-popping. About 10 years ago, my eldest son started going to day-care, and promptly brought home his first ear-infection. I hadn't had an ear infection since I was his age, and it hit me pretty hard.

Since then, every major cold I've had has had an accompanying ear infection. The doctors used to treat me with antibiotics. These days, they just tell me to live through it.

I generally feel better after the ear has made the popping sound, and there seems to be less pressure (even if I hadn't felt pressure before). I don't know if this is psychosomatic, or an actual event that's taking place in the ear.
posted by thanotopsis at 1:12 PM on April 27, 2005

It happens to me. The ear-popping thing is probably from all the pressure of blowing. Apparently what happens is that the Eustachian tube gets blocked (which also happens to me when riding rollercoasters, elevators, hearing loud explosions). As for the faintness, I always attributed it to a lack of oxygen getting to the brain, since while blowing one's nose, more air goes out than in. I've personally remedied it by simply inhaling deeply and/or getting some fresh air right afterwards.
posted by Lush at 1:19 PM on April 27, 2005

This doesn't address your question directly, but I feel compelled to say: if your ears are popping, you are blowing your nose much, much too hard! By doing so, you run the risk of forcing infectious fluid into your sinuses and ears, and strain the delicate tissues of your nose, throat, and ears.

Blow gently. Drink more fluids to thin phlegm and mucus.
posted by Specklet at 1:45 PM on April 27, 2005

thanatopsis- I used to have the same problem. Nowadays, when I feel the onset of a cold, I hit up the sinus/cold/allergy drugs quick and hard. The idea is a) prevent as much nasty mucus buildup as possible and b) relieve as much pressure on my ear drum as possible. Through a combination of Clariton, Alieve cold & sinus, and Alavert, I haven't had an ear infection since I started using them.
posted by jmd82 at 1:51 PM on April 27, 2005

I have the same problem with ear pops, but I don't feel faint. Another trick, besides blowing gently, is blow one nostril at a time. You also may want to try it sitting down.

I currently have a nasty cold and every time I swallow my ears pop/click. It's driving me insane.
posted by deborah at 2:50 PM on April 27, 2005

The patency (ease of opening) of the Eustachian tube varies greatly, both within an individual and between individuals. Therefore, it is hard to generalize. Throat infection can temporarily block the tubes thereby making pressure equalization difficult if not impossible. In the other direction, some people have tubes that are so open that their voice travels through the tubes into their ears and the resulting loud distortion is very annoying.

Forcing air into the middle ear by blowing against resistance will relieve pressure build-up (known as the 'Valsalva maneuver'). This is handy when descending in an airplane or elevator. Its opposite, sucking against resistance ('Mueller maneuver') works when ascending rapidly.

As Specklet says, if you routinely pop your ears when blowing your nose, then you are blowing too hard for the condition of your Eustachian tubes. You risk blowing infected fluid into the middle ear, where it is difficult to heal.

Increasing your intra-thoracic pressure (chest area) by blowing so hard effectively starves the heart for return blood flow, and this could cause faintness in the same way that some people get lightheaded when they stand up quickly. Again, the remedy is to not blow so hard. It is also worth pointing out that blowing so hard will also drive potentially infected mucus into your sinuses, where that might lead to subsequent infection.

Finally, if your ears pop at different times from each other or alternately, if only one ear pops and the other does not (your post mentioned "ear" and not "ears"), then there is a phenomenon known as the Tulio effect. The popping of the ear displaces fluid in the semicircular canals (the organs of balance). Since those organs are mirror images of each other, if such displacement occurs simultaneously the resulting neural signals cancel each other. However, if only one ear pops, the resulting fluid displacement in that ear sends a powerful message to the effect that spinning has occurred, creating a strong feeling of dizziness, usually in the roll axis. If you do not know about this phenomenon, then you could easily mistake it for faintness. It is strong enough to make one fall over or lose control of a car while driving.
posted by RMALCOLM at 3:35 PM on April 27, 2005

My grandfather was an ear/nose/throat doctor who constantly reminded us to be very careful when blowing our noses. As RMALCOM said, when you have a cold and you blow your nose too hard you risk blowing mucus into your ear canal -- which can lead to an ear infection (very unpleasant). Be gentle with yourself. Also, one reason your ears might pop when your getting over a cold is that clogged mucus is draining and you are becoming "unclogged" so to speak.
posted by ebeeb at 9:54 PM on April 27, 2005

Oh my god that is indeed an awesome answer. Just tried the first trick (blowing against resistance) and cleared my whole head up. Amazing. Thanks!
posted by agregoli at 9:16 AM on April 28, 2005

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