Head & Ear Congestion

Updated April 17, 2017

Head and ear congestion can be annoying, uncomfortable and even painful. It doesn't just occur during cold and flu season. It can happen year round, for a variety of reasons. If you recognise the symptoms as soon as they happen, you can treat it before it becomes more serious.


Common causes of head and ear congestion are colds and allergies. Membranes in the nose and sinuses become inflamed and swollen. This swelling can block the Eustachian tube that connects the back of the nose to the ear and controls drainage and pressure in the middle ear. If this tube is blocked, the ear feels full and hearing is affected. Air travel can also put pressure on the middle ear and cause pain.


Symptoms of head and ear congestion may include headache and earache. The face, head and ears may hurt from the pressure of the swollen tissues in the nose and sinuses. You may have a runny nose, as a result of your sinuses draining. Fluid can also accumulate in your middle ear, making it difficult to hear. You might hear cracking or popping when you swallow, chew or blow your nose.


Medication formulated to treat the symptoms of colds and allergies can help reduce swelling in the sinuses and nasal passages, which can reduce pressure. Antihistamines can dry up mucous membranes, helping to reduce drainage. Antibiotics may be prescribed to fight a bacterial infection. Nasal sprays may also be recommended by your doctor. According to the National Institute for Health, over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help relieve the pain of an earache.


The inner ear is responsible for your sense of balance, so if the drainage canals to the ears are blocked, this can cause dizziness. Once the congestion is treated, this feeling should subside. If ear pain stops suddenly, this can be a sign of a ruptured eardrum, which requires immediate medical attention.


Don't put cotton swabs or any other foreign objects in your ear. You risk puncturing your eardrum and exposing your ear to infection. Do not give children aspirin for head or ear pain due to the risk of Reye's Syndrome, a potentially fatal disease. Don't use nasal spray longer than prescribed. Prolonged use can actually cause irritation of the mucous membranes. See your doctor if pain and congestion lasts longer than 48 hours.

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