Ear - Congestion  

This Care Guide Covers:

  • Sudden onset of a stuffy or plugged up feeling in the ear
  • Crackling or popping noise in the ear
  • Hearing is often muffled
  • No ear pain, except with air-travel type
  • Rare complaint before age 4 or 5 years

If not, see these topics
When to Call Your Doctor

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Earache
  • Could be a foreign body in the ear canal
  • Ear congestion lasts more than 48 hours
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Could be blocked with ear wax
Parent Care at Home If
  • Ear congestion most likely from blocked ear tube
Causes & Health Information


  • Blockage of ear tube (eustachian tube) during nose allergies or a cold
  • Blowing the nose too much can also cause blockage of the ear tube
  • Sudden increases in air pressure. This can occur in descent (coming down) when mountain driving or flying.
  • Middle ear fluid can also cause this. This sometimes happens with ear infections.

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Most often, this is from a blocked ear tube (eustachian tube). This tube normally drains the space behind the eardrum. It is usually not caused by an ear infection.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Swallow and Chew More:
    • Swallow water or other fluid while the nose is pinched closed. Reason: Makes a vacuum in the nose that helps the ear tube open up.
    • After age 6, can also use chewing gum.
  3. Decongestant Nose Spray (Age 12 years or older):
    • If chewing doesn't help after 1 or 2 hours, use a long-acting decongestant nose spray. You can ask your pharmacist to suggest a brand.
    • Dose: 1 spay per side, 2 times per day as needed.
    • Don't use for more than 3 days. Reason: Can cause rebound swelling in the nose.
    • Decongestants given by mouth (such as Sudafed) are not advised. They may lessen nose and ear congestion in some children. However, they also can have side effects.
  4. Allergy Medicines:
    • Nose allergies can cause ear stuffiness.
    • If your child has hay fever or other allergies, give an allergy medicine. An example is Benadryl. See Dose Table.
    • See Hay Fever guide for other advice.
  5. What to Expect:
    • The symptoms most often clear within 2 days (48 hours) with treatment.
    • It's safe for your child to swim or fly.
  6. Prevention for Airplane/Mountain Travel:
    • Swallow during descent (coming down) using fluids or a pacifier.
    • Children over age 6 can chew on gum during descent (coming down).
    • Yawning also can open the middle ear.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Ear pain occurs
    • Ear congestion lasts more than 48 hours
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

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Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 12/5/2012

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.