In normal circumstances, the air pressure on both sides of each of your eardrums is roughly equal. But various situations can cause an imbalance in pressure, making your ears feel as if they are plugged up and your hearing is muffled.
For example, when you are flying in a plane, air pressure in the cabin reduces, while the pressure in the inner ear remains constant. This causes the eardrum to bulge outward. On the other hand, during scuba diving, the pressure on the outer ear increases as compared to the inner ear, causing the eardrum to bulge inward. In both cases, you can experience a stuffy, plugged up feeling in your ears.
Blocked or clogged ears can also be a symptom of certain health conditions, such as adenoids, an ear infection, allergies, earwax buildup, a common cold and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ), to name a few.
Clogged or stuffy ears can be uncomfortable and may affect your hearing capability. When this happens, popping your ears may help.
Popping your ears is generally safe and provides quick relief from discomfort. There are many simple and effective ways to pop your ears.
Here are some of the ways to pop your ears.
The first tip to pop your ears is to try the swallowing technique. When you swallow, the muscles of your mouth automatically work to open the Eustachian tubes, so the pressure that has built up will equalize and provide instant relief.
- Hold your nose and close your mouth.
- Turn your head to the right, until your chin touches your shoulder.
- Swallow hard until your left ear pops.
- Next, turn your head to the left to pop your right ear.
- If needed, repeat the process.
You can also eat hard candy to make you swallow faster. For babies or toddlers, give them a beverage during a plane flight to encourage frequent swallowing.
Just like swallowing, yawning also helps pop your ears. Yawning opens the Eustachian tubes and allows air to flow in or out of the middle ear, thus helping equalize the air pressure on both sides of the eardrums.
A large yawn is all that you need to pop your ears. However, if you can’t yawn on cue, try a fake yawn by opening your mouth as wide as it will go, while breathing in and out. Try fake yawning every few minutes until your ears pop.
A lot of people feel the urge to yawn whenever they see someone else yawn. So, you can watch some videos of people yawning to help get you going.
3. Valsalva Maneuver
This easy-to-perform technique can easily help pop your ears. It generates pressure in the back of the nose, which may help open the Eustachian tubes, in turn equalizing the air pressure in your ears.
- Close your mouth and pinch your nostrils closed with your fingers.
- Keeping your cheeks neutral, take a deep breath.
- Blow air out gently through your nose to regulate the air pressure.
- Repeat until you hear a slight popping sound.
Caution: Don’t blow your nose too hard, as it may cause damage to the eardrums.
4. Toynbee Maneuver
This effective technique is a combination of the Valsalva maneuver and swallowing.
Here, you try to change the pressure within the middle ear by swallowing or gently blowing, while your nose is pinched closed and your mouth is tightly shut.
- Take a sip of water in your mouth.
- Pinch your nostrils closed with your fingers.
- Swallow the water you have in your mouth.
- You will soon hear the popping sound.
The Valsalva maneuver is effective for some people, while the Toynbee maneuver works better for others. So, try both methods to determine which works best for you.
5. Chewing Gum
To overcome a sudden change in air pressure that causes the ears to become clogged, try chewing gum.
This process of chewing will open up your Eustachian tubes, relieving the excess pressure in the ears and ultimately opening up clogged ears.
This is why it is highly recommended to keep chewing gum handy when travelling by air.
6. Warm Compress
Applying a warm washcloth against the affected ear is also effective at opening the Eustachian tubes to equalize air pressure in the ears. It also helps eliminate congestion, one of the key reasons behind blocked ears.
The heat from a warm compress will also help ease any pain.
- Soak a washcloth in warm water, wring out the excess water and hold it over the affected ear for 5 minutes.
- Alternatively, wrap a hot water bottle in a thin towel and apply it to the clogged ear for 5 minutes.
7. Steam Inhalation
Steam inhalation is another effective method, but only when you have clogged ears due to a cold, the flu or allergies. Steam helps loosen the mucus, which in turn provides quick relief from clogged ears.
- Pour hot water into a large bowl.
- Optionally, add a few drops of lavender essential oil to it.
- Cover your head with a towel to prevent the steam from escaping.
- Inhale the steam slowly until the clogged ear pops.
Instead of steam inhalation, taking a hot shower for about 10 minutes will have the same result.
8. Nasal Decongestants
Sometimes, all you need to do is unclog your nasal passageways to deal with clogged ears.
You can get an over-the-counter nasal decongestant and use it according to the directions on the package. You can use a pediatric-strength nasal decongestant to help open your Eustachian tubes without the side effects of a stronger dose of medication.
You can also use it as a preventive measure for plugged ears that occur due to flying in an airplane. Use the nasal decongestant about ½ to 1 hour before takeoff and landing.
Caution: Do not take decongestants before or during diving.
- No matter which technique you try, be gentle so you don’t accidentally damage your inner ears.
- During a plane flight, you can also use filtered earplugs to gradually equalize the pressure as you gain elevation or descend. Don’t sleep during takeoffs and landings, so that you can use the above mentioned techniques when you feel pressure in your ears.
- Avoid flying when you have a cold or other congestion.
- If you use over-the-counter or prescription medications to unclog your ears, avoid prolonged use of the medication.
- Avoid driving to or from high altitudes when you have a respiratory infection, as it can be dangerous.
- If you hear funny crackling noises coming from your ear, see a doctor to rule out the possibility of a serious ear problem.