The Sinus-Ear Connection
Clogged sinuses can mean more than a stuffy nose. Pain, dizziness, and that muffled-ear sensation, like you’re in a descending plane, can be caused by sinus woes, too. Here’s what you can do to relieve your ears.
Stuffiness and Ear Discomfort and Sinus Pain
Your sinuses and ears are connected inside your head. So sinus congestion and stuffiness can affect the pressure in your ears. Treating sinus congestion may help overall discomfort and pain from that pressure.
• Seek moisture. Use a nasal saline spray several times a day, or hold a warm, moist washcloth to your face. This can help relieve sinus pressure and pain.
Humidifiers can also help keep sinuses from drying out. Sitting in the bathroom with a hot shower running for 15 minutes or so also works for sinus pain.
• Check the medicine cabinet. Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Aleve (naproxen sodium), Tylenol (acetaminophen), or Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), to ease an earache.
• Try a decongestant. Over-the-counter decongestant tablets or nasal sprays can help sinus blockage. That may relieve clogged ears. Don't use nasal sprays for more than three days. Using them longer can make your nose more stopped up.
• Avoid temperature extremes. They can make sinus-related ear problems worse. If your ears are bothering you, it isn’t the time to go jogging on a hot day or build a snow fort with the kids.
• Keep your head up. Bending forward with your head down can make the pressure worse. You may want to skip yoga class until the sinus episode is over.
• Blow your nose gently. Try blocking one nostril while blowing through the other.
A build-up of pressure in the inner ear, including pressure caused by sinus problems, can sometimes make you feel dizzy.
• Avoid fast movements. Don’t stand up too quickly or shake your head fast.
• Drink plenty of fluids. Drink lots of water in the evening. Staying hydrated keeps nasal mucus thin. That helps it drain and means less nighttime stuffiness.
• Avoid caffeine, salt, alcohol, and tobacco products. These can affect your circulation. Minor changes in blood flow can affect your ears.
The pressure changes you feel on an airplane can be uncomfortable even without sinus problems. If you're already having sinus pain or pressure, flying can be tough.
• If you can, avoid air travel when you’re having sinus problems, especially if they’re affecting your ears.
• If you must fly, don’t wait for the pain to hit to try to relieve pressure. Before you board the plane, try a nasal spray or oral decongestant. Pills and capsules can take a while to get into your system and begin working. Aim to take them at least 30 minutes to an hour before takeoff.
• Sinus-related ear problems can cause problems in the water, too. Scuba divers should avoid diving when sinus problems flare up. Stuffy sinuses can make it difficult or impossible to equalize ear pressure. That puts you at risk for injury.
When to See a Doctor
Usually, ear problems related to a sinus issue aren’t severe and don’t last long. Most of the time, they go away on their own. See your doctor if:
• You have a fever.
• You have head, face, or ear pain or swelling that doesn’t get better with non-prescription medication.
• Symptoms last for more than a week, or keep coming back.