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Ear - Congestion

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Does this describe your child's symptoms?


  • Sudden onset of muffled hearing

  • Crackling or popping noises in the ear

  • A stuffy, full sensation in the ear

  • Usually no ear pain, except with air-travel type

  • Unusual complaint until after age 4 or 5 years


  • Blockage of ear tube (eustachian tube) during nose allergies, a cold or over-vigorous nose-blowing

  • Sudden increases in air pressure, which occur in descent from mountain driving or airplane travel

  • Middle ear fluid can be present with a resolving ear infection

If not, see these topics


When to Call Your Doctor

call within 24 hours

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen

  • Earache

  • Possible foreign body in ear canal

  • Ear congestion lasts over 48 hours

call within 24 hours

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

  • Blocked ear wax suspected

home care

Parent Care at Home If

  • Ear congestion (probably from blocked eustachian tube) and you don't think your child needs to be seen



  1. More Chewing and Swallowing: Swallow water or other fluid while the nose is pinched closed. (Reason: creates a vacuum in the nose that helps the Eustachian tube to open up.) After age 6, can also use chewing gum.

  2. Decongestant Nasal Spray (Age 12 years or older):

    • If chewing doesn't help after 1 or 2 hours, use a long-acting decongestant nasal spray. You can ask your pharmacist to recommend a brand.

    • Dosage: 1 spay per side, 2 times per day as needed.

    • Don't use more than 5 days. (Reason: rebound swelling)

    • An oral decongestant (e.g., pseudoephedrine) may help if the nasal spray is not available (See Dosage table).

  3. Antihistamines:

    • Nasal allergies can cause ear congestion.

    • If your child has hay fever or other allergies, give an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl (See Dosage table).

    • See Hay Fever topic for details.

  4. Expected Course: The symptoms usually clear within 2 days (48 hours) with treatment. It's safe for your child to swim.

  5. Prevention for Airplane/Mountain Travel:

    • Swallow during descent using a pacifier or fluids

    • Children over age 6 can chew on gum during descent

    • Yawning also can open the middle ear

  6. Call Your Doctor If:

    • Ear pain occurs

    • Ear congestion lasts over 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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