Ear pressure

Ear pressure & congestion

What is ear pressure?

If you’ve ever had a bad cold or caught a flight, it’s likely that you’ve experienced pressure in the ears or ear congestion. Generally described as a feeling of fullness within the ears, these symptoms may affect your hearing, cause pain or even leave you feeling off-balance. 

Symptoms and causes of ear pressure

The main symptoms of ear pressure are:

  • Muffled hearing
  • Blocked ears
  • A feeling of fullness within the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Feeling off-balance

There are many different reasons why ear pressure and congestion may develop. Some of the most common causes of these symptoms include: colds, flus and sinus conditions, a build-up of fluid within the ear, a build-up of wax within the ear, allergies, air travel and also some ear infections.

A woman wearing her earrings next to her hearing aid

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Ear pressure equalisation

The feeling of pressure on our ears is quite common. We often feel this sensation when we go through a train tunnel, or when a plane is taking off or landing. A little pressure is not dangerous but can be uncomfortable.

In the middle ear, behind the eardrum is an air-filled space called the tympanic cavity. This passes through a tubular connection into the back pharynx (commonly called the throat). This connection is called the eustachian tube.  It helps to adjust the air pressure in the middle ear to that of the environment. When we yawn or swallow, the eustachian tube opens, which causes ear pressure equalisation. 

Changes in speed or height cause different air pressure conditions inside and outside the ear. This often results in your ears feeling blocked. Swallowing, yawning or chewing gum can help open the eustachian tube and equalise the pressure on your ears. 

Air pressure from travelling

Rapid air pressure changes can play havoc on your ears when travelling by air. Simple actions including chewing gum and yawning when ascending or descending, can help to open up the eustachian tubes and prevent uncomfortable pressure developing. Special earplugs designed with air travel in mind can also help to prevent unwanted ear pressure.

Ear pressure from a cold

If you’re experiencing ear congestion or pressure as you battle a cold, the flu or a sinus condition, you may benefit from the use of a nasal decongestant, nasal irrigation or using a humidifier to keep the air around you moist. While these remedies do not target the ears specifically, the sinuses, nose and ears are closely connected, meaning that if you experience symptoms in one area, you are likely to have side effects in another.

Ear feels clogged and muffled

If the ear wax that naturally forms within your ear becomes compacted, it can cause a blockage of the ear canal, leading to an increase in pressure and the sensation of fullness. This can also make your ears feel clogged and muffled. If you are experiencing blocked ears, you should see your doctor or ear nurse for professional ear wax removal.

Our tips to relieve ear pressure

Treatments for ear pressure and congestion do vary depending on the root cause of the symptoms. Below are some tips.

  • Colds, flus and sinus conditions: use a nasal decongestant or use a humidifier to keep the air around you moist.
  • Build-up of fluid within the ear: apply a hot compress to the ear, or use over-the-counter ear drops.                                             
  • Air travel: chewing gum and yawning when ascending or descending, or use special earplugs for air travel to prevent unwanted air pressure.

If symptoms still persist, get in touch with your doctor.

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