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Airplane passengers ear pressure

The Best Ways to Relieve Ear Pressure

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In the 1500s, Bartolomeo Eustachio, an Italian physician and human anatomy expert of that time in history, discovered the thin tube that connects our middle ears to the back of our throats.

Today, that auditory passageway is known in medical terminology as the eustachian tube, in honor of the ancient doctor. While the name of the tiny canal is not exactly a household term, the fact that it can become clogged and a source of ear pressure is a reality that many of us know all too well.

The eustachian tube is very small, about 1.4-inches long and a mere 0.12 in diameter. So, it doesn’t take much to block it or stop it from functioning correctly. That can result in ear pressure and other annoying symptoms.

You can typically treat the common causes of ear pressure with a few fairly simple steps. In some cases, however, more aggressive treatment is necessary to make the ear feel normal again.

What causes ear pressure?

Your ears rely on a fine balance of pressure to function effectively. The eustachian tube regulates the pressure in your middle ear, helping balance air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. Under normal circumstances, the eustachian tubes open when you swallow or yawn. This naturally equalizes the pressure in your middle ear.

When the tube becomes blocked or out of balance, you may experience a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. You may also have ear pain, dizziness and muffled hearing.

The most common causes of ear pressure include:

  • Altitude change: Your eustachian tubes may not have time to adapt to a sudden change in altitude. This can happen when in airplanes, driving in the mountains or taking an elevator in a tall building.
  • Sinusitis: When sinuses become inflamed and swell, it can cause pressure or fullness in your ears.
  • Ear infection: This can occur when the eustachian tube isn’t draining properly. Fluid buildup can promote the growth of infection-causing viruses or bacteria.
  • Colds: The common cold can cause nasal inflammation and congestion, preventing the tubes from properly equalizing pressure within your middle ear.
  • Allergies: As with colds, allergies can inflame nasal passages and affect the eustachian tubes.
  • Earwax buildupToo much earwax can block the ear canal, causing pressure.

Relieving the pressure

Solving the problem of ear pressure depends somewhat on the cause. If your ears are plugged, doing something as simple as swallowing, yawning or chewing sugar-free gum can sometimes solve the problem. These often work in cases where the tubes are impacted by altitude changes.

Relieving ear pressure brought on by sinus congestion due to colds, allergies or ear infections may require more involved treatment. Inhaling steam, using a nasal spray or taking a decongestant can help relieve pressure.

If your ear pressure is related to a sinus infection, your problem may go away when the infection runs its course. An antibiotic may be prescribed to tackle stubborn infections, although many doctors try to limit the use of antibiotics except when absolutely needed.

In cases where wax buildup in the ear canal is causing the pressure, solutions such as mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide can dissolve the earwax. Special tools can also be used to remove the wax, but his should only be performed under the supervision of a doctor to avoid damage to the ear drum.

The bottom line

Feeling ear pressure is very common and can usually be treated at home by swallowing or yawning or by taking over-the-counter medications.

However, if your condition persists or worsens, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for an examination and treatment.

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