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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Ear congestion

03/08/2006

Question:

Could you please tell me if there are any over the counter products that can help ear congestion? Thanks.

Answer:

"Ear congestion" can be a common complaint resulting from a variety of different ear disorders. The effectiveness of over-the-counter medications will depend upon what the underlying problem is. For example, many people develop a sense of plugging or fullness or pressure in their ear(s) when they develop a severe head cold, flu or sinus infection. In such cases, the ear congestion is often relieved when the head and nose congestion is relieved. For this type of scenario, short term use of decongestants such as pseudoephedrine can sometimes alleviate symptoms temporarily. But in other cases where people experience chronic ear congestion or recurrent ear congestion, it is possible that more significant ear disorders are involved. As an example, middle ear fluid or infection (i.e. otitis media with effusion or acute otitis media, respectively) can cause a congested feeling in the ear. As another example, disorders such as Meniere's disease (an inner ear disorder) can also produce symptoms of ear congestion. These types of disorders would not be improved significantly by over-the-counter medications and need to be managed by your physician. Its also important to realize that a "plugged ear" or "congested ear" can occasionally be due to more serious disorders. A blockage of the eustachian tube (the tube that connects your ear to the back of your nose and throat) can also cause ear congestion. Particularly if ear congestion is unilateral (one-sided), its important to rule out any growths or lesions that might be blocking the eustachian tube on that side.

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Response by:

Daniel   Choo, MD Daniel Choo, MD
Associate Professor and Director, Division of Otology/Neurotology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati