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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
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Ear Congestion


If your child has ear congestion, he will probably feel:

  • a sudden onset of muffled hearing
  • crackling or popping noises in the ear
  • a stuffy, full sensation in the ear
  • no ear pain except in cases related to airplane travel.

This type of ear congestion usually comes and goes.


Ear Fluid

Earwax Problems (blocking the ear canal)


The most common cause of ear congestion is fluid in the middle ear due to intermittent eustachian tube blockage by a cold, hay fever, or over-vigorous nose blowing. Sudden increases in barometric pressure, which occur in descent from mountain driving or airplane travel, also cause ear congestion.


  1. Treatment

    Have your child chew gum, yawn frequently, and swallow while the nose is pinched closed. If he could have water in the ear canal from a recent shower or swim, help drain it with gravity by turning the side of the head down and gently pulling the earlobe in different directions. If he has hay fever he should also take his antihistamine medication. If your child is in pain, give acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It's OK for your child to swim.

  2. Prevention of ear congestion due to altitude change

    Have your child repeatedly "pop" the ears by yawning or swallowing during the typical 30 to 60 minutes of descent in an airplane. If this fails, your child should try to blow his nose against closed nostrils. A baby can be given water to drink or a pacifier to suck on. The child should not sleep during descent.

    Children with recurrent problems should take an oral antihistamine and use a long-acting decongestant nasal spray 1 hour before travel.

    If severe pain occurs despite these precautions, ask the flight attendant for a hot towel to place tightly over the opening of the ear (the heat will expand the air in the middle ear and relieve the negative pressure on the eardrum).


  • The ear congestion lasts more than 2 days.
  • Ear pain develops.
  • You have other concerns or questions.

Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems