There are various things a person can try to pop their ears. These include yawning, swallowing, and chewing gum.
Ear barotrauma is the medical term for the sensation of the ears feeling full or clogged and needing to pop. It usually happens when a person is sick or changing altitude, such as when they are flying on an airplane, driving up a mountain, or descending at the beginning of a scuba dive.
This article explains ways to pop the ears. It also goes over what happens when a person pops their ears.
Popping the ears helps to open the eustachian tubes and regulate the pressure in the middle ear.
There are many strategies people can use to help pop their ears safely and effectively.
Yawning helps to open the eustachian tubes. Try forcing a yawn several times until the ears pop open.
Swallowing helps activate the muscles that open the eustachian tube. Sipping water or sucking on hard candy can help to increase the need to swallow.
It is best to be cautious when performing this maneuver because there is a small risk of rupturing the eardrum.
To do the Toynbee maneuver, pinch the nose closed and close the mouth, then try swallowing. Having a mouthful of water may make it a little easier.
To perform this maneuver, pinch the nose closed and use the tongue to make a clicking or “K” sound.
Chewing gum helps increase swallowing because it stimulates saliva production. Also, the chewing motion can also help to open the eustachian tubes.
Tips when flying
While flying, it is important to avoid sleeping during the descent and landing. It is more likely for the ears to become clogged at this point and infrequent swallowing during sleep may not be enough to clear them.
For infants and babies
Infants sometimes find it difficult to clear their ears, as they are not able to intentionally swallow or pop their ears.
Feeding (either at the breast or with a bottle) or providing a pacifier can help the baby suck and swallow in order to clear their ears. This may mean waking the baby during descent to avoid later discomfort.
Try special devices
There are devices available that can help to clear the ears. These are especially useful for people who are not able to use or perform the above maneuvers safely or effectively.
There are three types of devices:
- Air-pressure regulating earplugs: These special earplugs claim to help regulate the flow of air from the environment into the ear. It is not clear whether they are truly effective, but they are inexpensive and risk-free.
- Otovent: The Otovent and similar devices mimic the motions used in the Valsalva maneuver. To use it, insert the nozzle into one nostril. At the other end is a deflated balloon. Pinch the open nostril closed and blow up the balloon using the nozzle in the first nostril. This device can be helpful for children or other people who are not able to use the Valsalva correctly.
- EarPopper: The EarPopper is a prescription device that can help open the eustachian tubes. It works by inserting the device into one nostril, closing the other, and pushing a button. The device releases small puffs of air through the nose and into the eustachian tubes.
Taking the medication 30–60 minutes before take-off or landing can help shrink the mucous membranes in the nose and eustachian tubes, making it easier to clear the ears.
Inside the ears is a small tube, known as the eustachian tube,
Swallowing opens that tube and allows a small air bubble to move from the nose and into the ear.
Most people notice a little click or popping noise in the ear when they swallow, caused by the movement of air into the ear.
The air is continuously absorbed into the lining of the ear. This process helps to keep air pressure on both sides of the eardrum the same.
If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, or if the outside pressure is different than the inside pressure, it can cause that uncomfortable sensation that the ears are full.
Blocked eustachian tubes
One possible cause of a blocked eustachian tube is a stuffy nose, such as from a head cold or sinus infection.
When the nose is stuffed or clogged, it can prevent the eustachian tubes from draining or filling with air properly.
When the eustachian tube is blocked, it prevents the air bubble from moving into the middle ear, eventually creating a vacuum and pulling on the eardrum.
This can be uncomfortable and can cause other problems in the ear, such as temporary hearing loss and dizziness.
Changing air pressure
The pressure of the air within the ear is usually the same as the pressure outside of the ear. However, in higher or lower altitudes, such as when flying on an airplane or deep sea diving, the air pressure is not the same.
As a result, the eustachian tube needs to open wider and more frequently in order to maintain and equalize to the new air pressure.
Most people’s ears feel worse in a plane during take-off and landing, especially during a quick ascent or descent.
Pressure in the ears can also happen anytime there are rapid altitude or pressure changes.
If common strategies to pop the ears do not work, a person may need to contact a healthcare professional. Anyone with severe or persistent pain or discomfort in their ear should contact their doctor sooner.
The healthcare professional may suggest medication, such as decongestants or steroids, to help clear the ear, or antibiotics if a person has an ear infection.
In rare cases, surgery may be required to help open the eardrum, drain the fluid, and equalize pressure in the ear.
Here are some questions people often ask about popping the ears.
Is there a medical way to pop your ears?
If the ears feel persistently blocked, a doctor will likely investigate to find out the reason and treat the underlying cause. They may prescribe decongestants, steroids, or antibiotics, depending on the cause.
How can I naturally unblock my ear?
Yawning, swallowing, chewing gum, and various maneuvers can help unblock the ears, for instance, when flying. However, blocked ears due to a congestion or another condition may need medical treatment.
How do you depressurize your ears when sick?
If a person’s ears are congested because of a cold, the blockage will likely clear as you recover. It may take time to resolve even after the illness has ended. However, persistent congestion may need medical treatment, especially if there is also pain.
There are various ways to pop the ears when flying or changing altitude, such as yawning, wiggling the jaw, and chewing gum.
However, a blocked ear due to a medical condition, such as an infection, may need medical intervention.