Blocked ears normally occur in hayfever due to the body producing an excessive amount of histamine, irritating the lining of the ears. It can be a debilitating symptom because of how it affects our hearing, either reducing our ability to hear or causing tinnitus. In this page, our hayfever expert Louise Baillie explores the symptoms of blocked ears and how they can be reduced using home and herbal solutions.
As with other symptoms of hayfever, blocked ears is the result of your body’s immune system reacting to pollen and consequently producing too much histamine. Excess production of this chemical causes local irritation and inflammation in the mucous lining of the nose, throat and ears, and in particular of the Eustachian tube.
The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear with the back of the nose. When you swallow, yawn or chew the Eustachian tube opens and air is allowed into the middle ear. This keeps the air pressure equal on both sides of the eardrum.
Additionally, any fluid present in the middle ear flows to the back of the throat through this tube. However, when the mucous lining is inflamed, the Eustachian tube is not able to fully open, interrupting the drainage of fluid. This causes the sensation of ‘blocked ears’.
Aside from the feeling of blocked ears or difficulty hearing, you may also notice other symptoms such as ringing or buzzing in the ears. This is sometimes termed as tinnitus.
Often holding your nose and mouth closed and blowing until you feel your ears pop helps to equalise the pressure in your middle ear, relieving the symptoms of a blocked ear. However, you need to be careful not to blow too hard and damage the delicate structures in your ear, such as the eardrum. As your blocked ear is caused by hayfever, this procedure is likely to only bring temporary relief.
Another home remedy is to inhale steam, (but be careful not to scald yourself!) The steam may help to thin and loosen the mucus, which then may be released. A hot steamy shower, sauna or humidifier will work in the same way.
Eating hot foods or spicy foods (eg. curries or horseradish), often helps to soften the mucus that is blocking your ears, and will also help with any congestion of the nasal cavities.
Although not exactly a remedy, it is important to keep your head up, as bending over with your head down increases the pressure inside your ear, worsening the feelings of congestion.
If your symptom of blocked ears is caused by hayfever, then seeking treatment for the underlying problem is likely to bring the most effective, long-term relief, and will also help with other symptoms of hayfever you are experiencing. Herbal remedies such as Pollinosan Hayfever Tablets combine seven different tropical herbs designed to target the symptoms of hayfever. It is a non-drowsy medication so will not affect your ability to drive or use machinery.
If you are looking for a herbal remedy specifically to target blocked ears, then Plantago is often found to be effective. It is thought to reduce the amount of inflammation present in the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract.
Conventional medicines can be used to treat the condition of hayfever or to treat individual symptoms.
In general, doctors are likely to advise anti-histamines to combat the excess release of histamine in the body. Anti-histamines can be bought over-the-counter, and can be taken as required to tackle symptoms or as a preventative measure. Some anti-histamines cause drowsiness and so you may need to be careful when driving or using machinery.
In extreme cases and for quick but short-term relief, your doctor may suggest a course of steroids. It is inadvisable to use steroid treatment for more than ten days, as unpleasant side-effects may be seen with long-term usage.
Other forms of treatment that may be recommended include cromoglycate tablets or sprays. They work by reducing the tendency of your immune system to react to pollen.
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What you eat can have a dramatic effect on your hayfever symptoms. While anti-inflammatory and natural anti-histamine foods can help control your symptoms, foods containing dairy and foods rich in sugar can actually make them worse.