How to Relieve Sinus Pressure in the Ear

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Sinus pressure is extremely painful and can cause damage to the ear itself if not properly relieved. Release the pressure inside your ear with help from a practicing doctor in this free video.

Part of the Video Series: Ears 101
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Video Transcript

Hi. I'm Dr. David Hill, and today we're going to talk about how to relieve sinus pressure in the ear. Now, that's a slightly confusing topic for me, because there's sinuses, and then there's ears. Now, they're all connected through the nose and they're all air spaces within the head, so frequently you'll have both ear pressure and sinus pressure. However, really we want to talk about how to relieve a sense of pressure in the middle ear. Let's first talk about what is the middle ear. Well, if you start a trip toward the ear starting at the hole out here--the external auditory canal--the first thing that you're going to run into is the eardrum. That defines the outer wall of the middle ear. The middle ear is everything on the other side--the inside--of the eardrum, until you get to the nerves that conduct hearing sensation to the brain. So there are some bones in there that we call ossicles, and those are attached to the eardrum and to the nerve--the cochlea--and they transmit the sound vibrations. Those are usually surrounded by air, and usually that air is at the same pressure as the outside air around your head. When that's the case, sound is transmitted and you're comfortable and you don't really notice anything. But what happens if something gets into that little chamber? Well, a couple of things can happen. First of all, you might go up in an elevator, go up and down in an airplane, and suddenly the outside air pressure is different from the inside air pressure there in the middle ear. The way that you equalize that pressure is a little tube that runs from the middle ear down into the inside of the nose that's called the Eustachian tube, and the Eustachian tube is supposed to carry air back and forth so that pressure stays the same. If the Eustachian tube is blocked because of a cold or allergies, sometimes pressure can build up in the ear. Now another thing that happens is fluid may collect in the middle ear, usually as a result of a viral infection. If that fluid becomes infected with bacteria, you can get an ear infection, or an acute otitis media. An acute otitis media often responds to antibiotics, but we're learning that it also often gets better if we don't do anything at all. So we really reserve antibiotic use for acute otitis media to those cases that are complicated. They may be especially severe, involve both ears, be of long duration, or come with some other underlying illness--like Down's Syndrome, for example--that would cause an immune deficiency. They may also be occurring in very young children whom we might want to treat - children under the age of two, for example - with antibiotics. But in older children and adults, frequently if you do nothing at all, even a bacterial ear infection will fix itself without any further intervention. Now, what if you have this sense of congestion in your ear... what can you do about it? Well, one thing is simply to try and equalize pressure in the ear. You can sort of hold your nose and swallow a little bit, try to get air to go in or out of the middle ear. You might try yawning or chewing gum, opening your jaw. All those maneuvers will open the Eustachian tube, especially if you're going up or down in an airplane, you might find those things very useful. If you have a cold or some sort of congestion, you might want to use normal saline in the nose by introducing it with a neti pot, for example. You can make your own normal saline with one half teaspoon of salt and one cup of water. You might also want to use a nasal decongestant spray like Afrin, but not for more than two or three days. You might also use an over the counter decongestant medication, such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. Warning: these medicines are not really good for kids. We do not recommend them in children. It's not clear that they do what we need them to do, and there are some potential side effects. Talking about relieving sinus pressure in the ear, I'm Dr. David Hill.

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