Can I prevent my cold from turning into an ear infection?
August 18, 2014 7:21 PM   Subscribe

My sweetie brought home a summer cold, I caught it, and I think it is turning into an ear infection. Is there anything I can do to head that off at the pass?

The details: the tickle throat started about a week ago, it finally hit full-on (cough mostly, a little bit of general congestion/sticky taste in my throat, but nothing too bad). I feel pretty bad right now because I have asthma and the puffers don't work when it's sickness and not allergy, but I am managing.

The alarming thing is, I have been having some popping in my ears and some sort of crackly sounds in my ears over the last day or so. Yesterday, it hurt enough that I became alarmed, but not enough to send me to the doctor---and that went away overnight, but my ears are still popping.

I remember one ear infection I had as an adult, it came upon me in the middle of the night when I could not see a doctor, and the pain was excruciating. I would rather not repeat that experience! I feel like this is not an ear infection YET---indeed, is not guaranteed to even be in the process of becoming one, and for all I know, popping ears are just from fluid build-up or something else from the cold. But if this IS going to be an ear infection---and isn't yet---I am wondering if there is anything I can do to prevent it from becoming one.

Normally, these things go to my chest, and I know how to deal with that. This one seems to be going to my ears, and I don't want this to progress any further. Ideas?
posted by JoannaC to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is it really an ear infection, or just swelling etc due to congestion? I have had this sort of thing a lot thanks to allergies and head colds. What happens is the Eustachian tubes become inflamed and actually seal off, which creates a vacuum, which pulls interstitial fluid into the Eustachian tubes, which can then impede hearing for a while. And it can be extremely painful at times.

I've actually gone to a nose-ear-throat specialist for this, and the only thing he recommended was to take OTC cold medication to relieve congestion, and drink plenty of sports drink during the progress of the cold, because head colds tend to make us dehydrated, which makes the problem worse.
posted by Nevin at 7:28 PM on August 18, 2014

When I had water on my ear, I was told by my doctor to get pseudoephedrine. The real stuff you have to get from behind the pharmacy counter. I'd guess that the crackling is due to congestion and mucus. Pretty normal for a cold.

I personally don't know of any way to prevent an ear infection, but I haven't had one since I was a kid.

However, during a quick walk-in clinic visit, they can take a peek in your ear. So I'd just pop into a local clinic.
Not a doctor, not medical advice, etc.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:36 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it will prevent a cold from turning into an ear infection, but when I've had trouble with stuff backing up into my Eustachian tubes (due to some faulty understanding of how to properly use a neti pot), I found that warm compresses on the side of my neck below my ear helped. Just a washcloth, wet with hot tap water, and pressed on the side that felt crappy helped a lot.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 7:44 PM on August 18, 2014

Mucinex rules for me for theses kinds of problems. YMMV.
posted by shownomercy at 7:45 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mucinex. Gargle salt water. The proper pseudoephedrine. I am prone to painful ear infections and these help for me. The hot tea drinks help to as the steam and heat helps open things up and the heat helps the mucus drain. Lemon & honey are both proven to be more than wives tales and help too. Steam can help open things up too, but with the warm weather you might want to just steam your face instead of a humidifier in the room.
posted by wwax at 7:53 PM on August 18, 2014

My child's pediatrician advised me to put garlic-mullein drops in my child's ears when there was a chance an ear infection was coming. My kid smelled like pizza but got no infection.
posted by xo at 8:13 PM on August 18, 2014

For-real-show-your-ID pseudoephedrine. It relieved much of my misery and noticeably shrank my poor nose-insides when I was horribly sick last year. Stay hydrated and rested.
posted by rtha at 8:56 PM on August 18, 2014

Oh yeah pseudoephedrine. My doctor also turned me on to this 1! Weird! Trick! because my Eustachian tubes are jerks. Get a dry-things-up nasal spray and give it both barrels. Wait 5 minutes. Get a saline spray in the same kind of bottle (they have aerosol ones too now, with extra groovy stuff like tea tree or eucalyptus, but just saline pump spray is fine). Spray that up your nose, don't sniff it back, tilt your head to the side and let the saline run down the jerk ear tubes. You can do the saline as often as you want, but don't over do the decongestant spray.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:12 AM on August 19, 2014

I do mainstream medicine, not alternative medicine, but just wanted to point out that I believe the garlic and mullein oil would be used for otitis external (lay term: "swimmer's ear") rather than otitis media, which is what I think you and others here are thinking of. I'm not aware of any way to prevent ear infections that's proven, but I'm interested to see what others say.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:25 AM on August 19, 2014

I was told by my doctor to get pseudoephedrine. The real stuff you have to get from behind the pharmacy counter.

I'm pretty sure you live in Canada.... so you won't need to ask for pseudoephedrine. It's kept on the shelves here.
posted by barnoley at 3:40 AM on August 19, 2014

I don't know if this really helps but I haven't had an ear infection since I began doing it, and just about every cold used to turn in to one for me. When I have a cold, I sleep with a wedge of pillows that keeps my upper body on about a 45 degree angle in the hope that everything will drain away. Oh, and pseudoephedrine.
posted by ChuckLeChuck at 4:13 AM on August 19, 2014

Ah, sinus problems. Decongestants, yes - pseudoephedrine, absolutely. My go-to is the Advil Allergy Sinus Plus, which has ibuprofen, pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, and the benadryl antihistamine. One controls the swelling/inflammation/pain, one dries stuff up, and one stops the sinuses from running in the first place.

And another important one to relieve things immediately is the Neti Pot, or a saline nasal irrigator, to literally flush out your sinuses. I used to get sinus/ear infections seasonally until I started using nasal rinses, to make sure nothing sits up there long enough to get infected.
posted by lizbunny at 9:21 AM on August 19, 2014

In addition to a decongestant, hydrate like it's your job.
posted by ewok_academy at 8:40 PM on August 19, 2014

Adults rarely get "ear infections" (middle ear infection, otitis media). Most people get eustachian tube dysfunction like Nevin mentioned. Obviously no one can say for sure without you seeing a health care professional, but many of the treatments people have mentioned in this thread are common treatments for this.

(I am not your doctor, you are not my patient, this is not medical advice for you, but simply education/information about the middle ear.)
posted by gramcracker at 4:22 AM on August 21, 2014

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