If you’ve ever ridden in an airplane or driven over a road with significant changes in altitude, you’ve probably experienced the feeling that your ears were full or needed to pop. In children this plugged feeling may be a symptom of otitis media with effusion, an on-going condition that often required surgery to placing tubes into the eardrums. Now, an optional treatment may replace this surgery with simple treatments that can be done at home.
What causes pressure in the ears?
The pressure in your middle ear should be the same as the pressure in your outer ear. This is because of passages called the Eustachian tubes. These tubes connect the inside of your middle ear to the back of your nose. Air travels through the passage to match up the pressure inside and outside your ear. When the Eustachian tubes become blocked or swollen, the pressure cannot be equalized. This added pressure on your ear drum prevents it from vibrating normally. The result is that sounds are muffled and you may also have pain in your ear.
How long will plugged ears last?
In the case of a simple plane trip or car ride, symptoms of a blocked ear typically last from a few seconds to a few minutes and go away without treatment. For some people with chronic sinus problems or smaller than normal Eustachian tubes, including young children, the tubes can become too narrow to allow air to pass. This can cause a vacuum that seals off the middle ear and draws fluid into the ear which causes more pressure and greater loss of hearing. This condition is known as OME or otitis media with effusion. In children, OME can also cause serious learning difficulties as their ability to learn speech and language is hampered by reduced hearing.
What is the treatment for plugged ears?
Treatment for plugged ears is directed at getting air flowing through the Eustachian tubes so the pressure in the ears can equalize. Oral decongestants or nasal sprays with antihistamines may help. Some people are able to get their ears to pop by taking a deep breath, pinching the nose closed, closing the mouth, and then trying to blow the pressure out.