Swedish Kids Symptom Checker

Swedish Kids Symptom Checker

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Ear - Congestion

1. 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

2. 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
  • Possible foreign body in ear canal
  • Ear congestion lasts over 48 hours

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Blocked ear wax suspected

Parent Care at Home If

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


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


  • 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: 9/15/2011 12:00:00 AM
  • Last Revised: 8/1/2011 2:57:50 PM
  • Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker
  • Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
If this is an emergency call 911 immediately.

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Swedish Kids Symptom Checker is designed especially for these times. The interactive iPhone application can help you make appropriate decisions on what level of care, if any, is needed and how to provide symptom relief for minor illnesses and injuries you can manage on your own.

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If you don't see your child's symptoms, please see these topics: