Ear pressure is the sensation of fullness or stuffiness within the ear. Ways of relieving it include chewing gum, using ear drops, and treating any underlying conditions, such as sinus congestion.

Ear pressure can occur when the eustachian tube of the ear becomes blocked or stops functioning correctly. The eustachian tube is a thin tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose.

This tube helps balance air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. It also helps clear out secretions from the ear. The eustachian tube opens when a person chews, swallows, or yawns. This helps prevent air pressure from building up inside the ear.

This article explains how to relieve ear pressure based on what is causing it.

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The sinuses are a network of hollow cavities inside the skull. Their primary function is to produce mucus, which helps moisturize the nasal passages and trap pathogens.

Sinus congestion is the medical term for an accumulation of mucus in the sinuses. Some potential symptoms include:

A person may develop sinus congestion as a result of the following:


Treatments for sinus congestion include:

  • inhaling steam
  • using saline nasal washes
  • trying decongestant nasal sprays
  • using topical nasal corticosteroids
  • applying a warm compress to the nose and forehead
  • taking antihistamines for allergies
  • taking antibiotics for sinus infections
  • undergoing surgery for chronic sinus congestion

Certain infections of the ear can cause ear pressure.

Middle ear infection

A middle ear infection, or otitis media, is an infection behind the eardrum. The condition causes fluid to build up behind the eardrum, and this can result in ear pressure.

Some potential symptoms of a middle ear infection include:

Although anyone can get a middle ear infection, it is more common in infants.


Some treatment options for a middle ear infection include:

  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • trying medicated ear drops
  • asking a doctor about antibiotics, if symptoms do not go away on their own

Fungal infection

A fungal ear infection occurs when fungi inside the ear proliferate. Fungal ear infections can cause the following symptoms:


Some potential treatment options for fungal ear infections include:

  • having a doctor clean the ear using swabs, a suction tube, or a syringe
  • using antifungal ear drops to control the infection
  • using medicated ear drops to control the inflammation

Swimmer’s ear

Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is an infection of the ear canal. The infection usually occurs after water becomes trapped inside the ear. The excess moisture can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria and fungi.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can include:

  • itching inside the ear
  • flushing or swelling of the skin around the ear
  • inner ear pain that gets worse if a person pulls on the outer ear
  • a feeling that the ear is blocked
  • drainage from the ear
  • decreased hearing
  • swollen lymph nodes around the ear or upper neck
  • intense pain in the neck, face, or side of the head
  • fever


Some treatment options for swimmer’s ear include:

  • cleaning the ear canal
  • trying medicated ear drops
  • taking antibiotics for bacterial infections

Rapid changes in altitude and pressure can block the eustachian tube. As a result, the tube will be unable to equalize pressure inside the middle ear with the pressure outside of the body.

The difference in pressure causes a vacuum that stretches out the eardrum. This may lead to the following symptoms:

  • ear pressure
  • ear pain
  • a buildup of fluid in the ear
  • temporary hearing loss
  • dizziness

Changes in altitude can occur during a number of activities, including:

  • traveling by air
  • using an elevator
  • scuba diving
  • driving up and down mountains


Some potential treatment options for ear pressure caused by changes in altitude include:

  • yawning
  • swallowing
  • pinching the nose and blowing gently, then swallowing
  • chewing gum
  • sucking a hard candy
  • using decongestants

Earwax helps to clean, protect, and lubricate the ear canal. However, earwax can occasionally build up and cause a blockage against the eardrum. This can result in:

  • earache
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • muffled hearing
  • partial hearing loss that becomes worse with time
  • ringing in the ears, or tinnitus
  • itching
  • discharge
  • odor
  • pain
  • infection

Earwax buildup is often due to a person using Q-tips or similar items to try to remove their earwax. This process actually pushes the wax deeper into the ear canal.


Treatments for earwax buildup include:

  • placing a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, or glycerin inside the ear
  • using OTC ear drops
  • using an OTC ear syringing kit or having a doctor syringe the ear
  • having a doctor remove the wax manually

Occasionally, objects can become trapped inside the ear canal. Children may insert items into their ears out of curiosity or as a means of exploration.

Foreign objects stuck in the ear can cause the following symptoms:

  • ear pain
  • flushing of the skin on the ear
  • ear drainage
  • hearing loss


Objects stuck in the ear will require removal. A doctor may remove objects in one of the following ways:

  • using tweezers or forceps
  • using magnets, if the object is metallic
  • flushing the ear with water
  • using a suction machine

Meniere’s disease is characterized by a buildup of fluid in the inner ear. The condition typically affects only one ear, but it can sometimes affect both.

The exact cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown. However, allergies and autoimmune conditions may increase a person’s risk of developing it.

Some potential symptoms of Meniere’s disease include:

  • dizziness or vertigo
  • tinnitus
  • hearing loss
  • a sensation of fullness in the affected ear or ears


There is currently no cure for Meniere’s disease. Instead, treatments focus on controlling dizziness and vertigo. Treatment may include:

  • following a diet that is low in salt
  • taking a water pill, or diuretic
  • taking anti-vertigo medication to help stop acute flares
  • receiving medicated injections into the eardrum
  • undergoing surgery

A cholesteatoma is a growth or cyst that becomes trapped behind the eardrum or by the bone behind the ear. Cholesteatomas begin as a buildup of earwax and skin debris. They most often develop due to poor ventilation in the middle ear.

Cholesteatomas can cause the following symptoms:

  • earache or pain
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • foul-smelling ear drainage
  • hearing loss
  • recurring ear infections
  • dizziness
  • facial muscle weakness on the side of the affected ear


Treatment of a cholesteatoma will generally involve the surgical removal of the growth or cyst.

An acoustic neuroma is a benign, slow-growing tumor that develops in the inner ear. These tumors develop on nerves that play a role in hearing and balance.

Symptoms of an acoustic neuroma can include:

  • one sided hearing loss
  • tinnitus
  • loss of balance
  • dizziness
  • facial numbness
  • facial weakness or paralysis


A doctor treat an acoustic neuroma using surgery or radiation therapy.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge that connects the side of the skull to the lower jaw. If the TMJ sustains any damage, it can cause significant pain.

TMJ pain may occur in the:

  • ears
  • temples
  • cheeks
  • muscles of the lower jaw
  • teeth

Other potential symptoms associated with TMJ damage include:

  • jaw clicking or popping
  • jaw locking
  • difficulty opening the mouth fully
  • frequent headaches or neck aches
  • tinnitus


Some potential treatment options for TMJ pain include:

  • eating soft foods
  • not chewing gum
  • not clenching the teeth
  • wearing a mouthguard at night
  • applying a warm compress to the jaw to relax the muscles
  • taking muscle relaxants
  • practicing stress reduction techniques
  • applying an ice pack to the jaw to reduce inflammation
  • taking anti-inflammatory drugs

A person who has ear pressure should see a doctor if they experience any of the following:

  • persistent pain
  • no improvement in symptoms despite home treatment
  • hearing loss
  • facial weakness
  • bleeding from the ear
  • dizziness
  • an inability to “pop” the ears
  • an inability to remove a foreign object from the ear

Ear pressure can occur due to sinus congestion, infections, or TMJ damage, among other conditions. It can also occur as a result of situational factors, such as changes in altitude or having a foreign body stuck inside the ear.

Some causes of ear pressure are treatable using OTC medications and home remedies. Others may require specialist treatment from a doctor or surgeon.

A person should see a doctor if they experience persistent ear pressure, especially if it occurs alongside other troubling symptoms. A doctor will work to diagnose the cause of the symptoms and provide appropriate treatments.