When my nasal passages and sinuses are particularly dry and I am congested, my ear symptoms are worse. This makes sense given that the ear, nose, and throat, are of course, all connected. My previous post described how some doctors suspect that ear pain or otalgia in Sjogren's patients might be partially caused by dryness in the upper respiratory tract, which can lead to ETD (above picture shows how the eustachian tube connects the back of the nose to the middle ear).
There are a few non-medication remedies and strategies that I have developed over the last few years to help relieve my symptoms of earache and ear pressure. They are by no means a cure all (and please consult your doctor before preceding with them), but anything that helps a bit and allows me to to do more and be more comfortable is worth it. And I hope that these might be helpful to others so here goes...
- Saline Nasal Spray -- I use this a minimum of twice a day in each nostril, but sometimes more to keep my nasal passages moist and clear my sinuses. I also flush my nasal passages with saline prior to using my prescription nasal sprays for better absorption of the medication. I carry a small size bottle in my purse for emergencies. Saline nasal sprays can be found at any drugstore and popular brands are Ocean and Ayr. There are also pharmacy brands available at most drugstores, which seem to work just as well.
- Steam Inhalation/Vapor Therapy -- For me, this is one of the most effective ways to alleviate my ear pain, moisten my nasal passages,clear congestion, and unclog my ears. I use the Vick's Personal Steam Inhaler and apply about two to three drops each of peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil to the water basin and steam for about 20 minutes at a time. In their chapter on the Otolaryngologic Manifestations of Sjogren's Syndrome, Drs. Jacqui Allen and Peter Belafsky discuss that steam inhalation is helpful to Sjogren's patients in their practice and recommend trying it two to three times a day. I would estimate that I have some improvement 60 percent of the time after steaming. The Vick's Inhaler can be purchased at drugstores and through Amazon. I usually find the peppermint and eucalyptus oils at a health food store or a place like Whole Foods which carries organic products.
- Hot Tea -- This is very simple and serves as my version of steam inhalation when I am not home. If my ears hurt, I will order a boiling hot mint tea and breath in the vapors. I know it probably looks ridiculous and people around me must wonder why is that woman sniffing her tea, but it can help a bit and sometimes prevents me from having to head home early.
- Chewing Gum -- Chewing gum with xylitol is already recommended for Sjoggies with dry mouth to stimulate saliva and help prevent dental decay, but it also helps equalize ear pressure especially if you have eustachian tube dysfunction. It is the same principal as chewing gum when you are flying, and it is also a good option especially when I am on the go and cannot use steam inhalation.
- Keep Ears Dry with Ear Plugs -- When my ears get wet from showering or bathing, it often exacerbates my symptoms. So I have started to use silicon ear plugs such as those made by Mack or BioEars for showering to keep them dry. I also avoid putting my head under water when swimming for the same reason. If my ears still happen to get water in them, I use ClearEars which are a pretty cool ear plug that are specifically made to remove water or moisture from the ears (they also happen to be echo friendly as a bonus).
And these are my main tips for now. Please share what works for you too so we can start a dialogue and help each other deal with these ear symptoms.
*I have no relationship with any of the companies whose products are mentioned in this post*