Few of us give much thought to colds and flu when summer is still in full swing, but with kids in Iowa and Minnesota heading back to school and the first hints of autumn color starting to appear, it won’t be long before sniffles, sneezes and coughs replace the nightly chorus of crickets.
How Illness Impacts the Ears
Most people associate cold and flu symptoms with the nose and throat, but the ears can be affected, too. Blame it on anatomy: any ear doctor will tell you the ears, nose and throat are all closely connected. The Eustachian tube stretches from the middle ears through the nasal passages to the upper throat. Its function is to regulate ear pressure, circulate air and remove excess fluids from the ears. Colds, allergies and upper respiratory infections prevent the Eustachian tube from working properly; swelling and excess mucus can create blockages that cause a buildup of fluid, leading to a plugged-up sensation in the ears that is accompanied by pain and pressure.
Not everybody is affected to the same degree. Because the Eustachian tube varies in shape and size from person to person, some individuals are more prone to ear discomfort when they are sick—especially those whose Eustachian tube is narrower or more horizontal. These folks are more likely to experience fluid buildup. Others have more mucous linings at the opening of the Eustachian tube, making inflammation more common when they are sick.
Six Ways to Relieve Ear Pressure
Ear discomfort associated with an illness is temporary; once your cold or infection has run its course, symptoms will diminish. There are ways to speed up your relief, however. Your hearing specialist recommends the following tips for relieving ear pressure:
- Over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants
- Chewing gum
- Sucking on a throat lozenge or hard candy
- Taking a breath, then breathing gently with your mouth closed while holding your nostrils shut
If the pressure in your ears doesn’t subside after a few days or is accompanied by sharp ear pain, fluid drainage or hearing loss, an infection may have developed. Consult with a hearing expert for treatment.