Your Stuffy Ears and Sinuses: What’s the Link?

The Sinus-Ear Connection

Clogged sinuses can mean more than a stuffy nose. You can also have pain, dizziness, and that muffled-ear sensation, like you’re in a descending plane.

You can take steps to relieve your ears once you know what the problem is, though.

Stuffiness, 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 the congestion may help.

Get moisture. Use a nasal saline spray several times a day, or hold a warm, moist washcloth to your face. This can ease the pressure and pain.

Humidifiers will also help keep your sinuses from drying out. Or you can sit in the bathroom with a hot shower running for 15 minutes to curb pain.

Check the medicine cabinet. Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, to ease an earache.

Try a decongestant . Over-the-counter tablets or nasal sprays can ease sinus blockage. That can relieve clogged ears. But don't use nasal decongestant sprays for more than 3 days, or they'll make you more congested.

Avoid temperature extremes. They can make sinus-related ear problems worse. If your ears bother 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. If you bend forward with your head down, it can make the pressure worse. You’ll want to skip yoga class until the sinus problem is over.

Blow your nose gently. Block one nostril while you blow through the other.

Dizziness

A build-up of pressure in the inner ear, including pressure caused by sinus problems, can sometimes make you feel dizzy.

No fast movements. Don’t stand up too quickly or shake your head fast.

Drink plenty of fluids. Down lots of water in the evening. When you stay hydrated, it 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, and minor changes in blood flow can affect your ears.

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Travel Troubles

The pressure changes you feel on an airplane can be uncomfortable. If you already have sinus pain or pressure, flying can be tough.

If you can, avoid air travel when you’re having sinus problems, especially if they affect your ears.

If you must fly, don’t wait for the pain to hit to try to relieve pressure. Before you get on the plane, try a nasal spray or oral decongestant. Pills and capsules can take a while to get into your system and begin working. So 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 their problems flare up. Stuffy sinuses can make it hard or impossible to equalize ear pressure. That puts you at risk for an 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.
  • Your symptoms last for more than a week or keep coming back.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on /2, 16

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery: “Sinusitis;” “Dizziness and Motion Sickness;” and “Sinus Pain: Can Over-the-Counter Medications Help?”

Divers Alert Network: “Ears and Sinuses -- Instructions for Equalizing Ears and Sinuses.”

Harvard Medical School, Women’s Health Watch: “What to Do About Sinusitis.”

Tampa Ear, Nose, and Throat Associates: “Sinusitis.”

Lindsey, H. ENT Today, July 2009.

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