Have you ever come across a situation where you suddenly feel your ears are going numb? Have you ever felt a disturbing pressure in your ears that hinders your listening ability? As a child, I used to often feel the pressure building in my ear after a flight journey. The air hostess used to give me candy to suck on. The swallowing helped pop my ears and relieve the discomfort to some extent.
This clogging of ears or pressure build-up in the ears also happens when you are sick or have a cold. It happens because of liquid congestion in your ear canals. Although this is quite disturbing, there are ways to quickly pop your ears open.
By following some quick and easy tricks, you can get relieved of the ear pressure. Sometimes, the pressure gets so scary and weird that you swallow in panic. The swallowing suddenly pops the ears open. This is the most common way of popping the ears. There are other ways too that we are going to discuss at length in this article.
First, let us understand the interior structure of a human ear. There is a small tube inside the ears known as the eustachian tube. It is connected to the throat. This tube helps to drain away fluid from the ears. It also is responsible for regulating air pressure between the ears and the nose. This tube helps maintain equal amounts of pressure on both sides of the eardrum.
When there is a difference in pressure, the eardrums may bulge inwards or outwards causing you to feel pressure inside the ear. The phenomenon of experiencing a change in pressure in the middle ear is known as barotrauma of the ear.
Popping the ears helps to push the eardrums back into place. This settles the pressure imbalance and reduces your discomfort. The eustachian tube is made in such a way that it opens up when a person swallows, yawns, or blows the nostrils.
Sometimes, when you do these actions, you hear a clicking or popping sound. This sound comes when air enters your middle ear via the Eustachian tube. When this tube gets clogged by mucus, earwax or fluid, it does not open on its own.
But when you swallow, the tube opens up and allows air passage from the nose to the ear. Air is constantly absorbed into the lining of your ear. This helps to keep the pressure the same on both sides of the eardrum.
What are the Common Causes of Pressure Buildup In The Ears?
So now that you have an idea of barotrauma of the ear, let us read about the reasons that cause it:
- Change in altitude
The eustachian tubes or your ear canals sometimes do not get enough time to get adapted to the change in pressure. A flight takes off in a few minutes and suddenly the pressure changes.
This is also experienced when driving in the mountains, or riding up an elevator in a very tall building. Change in-ear pressure is also experienced while descending from mountains.
When a person suddenly changes his altitude, the pressure from the surrounding water in the eustachian tube pushes on the middle ears. This can be prevented by descending or ascending slowly. Drivers are advised to equalize this middle ear pressure by ventilating via their eustachian tubes.
- Ear infections
Sometimes ear infections also cause ear barotrauma. Infections like Otitis media, middle ear infection occurs when the Eustachian tube is not able to drain liquid properly. The fluid build-up inside leads to bacterial or fungal growth. Similarly, Swimmer’s ear is an infection that occurs in the outer portion of the ear caused by water-borne bacteria. Although this infection occurs on the outer lobe of the ear, it also causes pressure inside because of fluid build-up and swelling.
Sinusitis is a condition in which the sinuses, i.e., the hollow spaces in the face get inflamed. This occurs due to a viral or bacterial infection. Due to the swelling of sinusitis, the person may feel ear pressure build-up.
People who are allergic to pollen, pet dander, or mold may get allergic rhinitis, a condition in which the nasal passages get inflamed. Mucus build-up also happens in this condition leading to ear pressure.
Nasal congestion and inflammation are common in cold. A common cold may also prevent the Eustachian tubes from equalizing the pressure, leading to an imbalance.
- Foreign Object
This is a dangerous scenario, most common with little children. They often get a toy or a small object stuck in their ears, leading to barotrauma of the ear or ear pain.
- Ear Wax Accumulation
Earwax is a natural product made the body to protect the delicate parts of the inner ear. This wax generally moves down the canal and settles on the outer area of the ear. It dries on its own and flakes off. When too much of ear wax build-up occurs, it blocks the ears and causes ear pressure.
How To Pop Your Ears Safely?
Wondering how to pop your ears after a flight or worry about how to pop your ears due to cold? Here are some easy-peasy tricks that can help you pop your ears safely:
Yawning is one of the easiest ways to pop your ears. It helps open the Eustachian tube. If you are not getting a natural yawn, you can also fake one. Just open your mouth wide and breathe. This will pop open your ears. You can try this several times until your ears open up.
When you swallow, your jaw muscles helps to open the Eustachian tube automatically. You can chew gum or suck on a candy to increase swallowing. Soon, you will find your ears pop open.
- Toynbee maneuver
In this technique, you have to close your nostrils by pinching them with your fingers and then swallow. This technique is very useful in force opening the blocked tube. The response may differ from person to person.
- Valsalva maneuver
In this technique, you have to pinch your nostrils with your fingers to close them. Keeps your cheeks in a neutral or pulled in position. Then blow out air softly from your nostrils. As you have pinched them shut, the blowing will create pressure behind your nostrils, thereby helping to open the Eustachian tube.
- Frenzel maneuver
You need to pinch your nostrils and close them with your fingers. Next, use your tongue to make a ‘clicking sound’. You can also try making the ‘K’ sound. This will create pressure in our eustachian canal and force it to open up.
- Use special earplugs
These earplugs help to regulate the flow of air from the outside into your ears. These are inexpensive and risk-free tools you can use to pop your ears.
- Use an ear popper
An ear popper is a special device available on prescription only. It can help to open the eustachian tubes. All you need to do is to insert the device into either one of your nostrils and pinch close the other nostril. Then, push a button on the device. It will release tiny puffs of air through the nostril directly into the Eustachian tubes. This device, however, should be used only after consulting your doctor.
- Use an Otovent
This device mimics the same action that you do in the Valsalva maneuver. To use it, you need to insert the nozzle of the device into one nostril. There is a deflated balloon at the other end of the device. Next, pinch closes the other nostril and try blowing the balloon with the open nostril. This device is very useful for little children who are unable to perform the Valsalva maneuver properly.
- Take medications
You get many decongestants over the counter. Many people who fly regularly use a decongestant. Although pills and intranasal sprays also work, decongestants prove to be more effective. You need to take a decongestant half an hour before flying or landing.
This medication helps to shrink the mucus membranes in the eustachian tubes and the nostrils, thereby clearing the ears to some extent. While in a flight, the person should be careful not to sleep while landing or take off. The ears get clogged more at this point. The person needs to be awake to increase the swallowing.
Lactating mothers are often recommended to feed the baby while take-off and landing as it helps the baby to swallow quickly and prevent air pressure build-up.
You might often find little children crying with ear pain during ascent or descent in a flight. This is because they are unable to swallow intentionally and pop their ears.
So, the next time, you have discomfort due to ear barotrauma, first, try the simplest tricks like yawning or swallowing. If you want to pop your ears after a flight, just try swallowing or yawning. If it does not help, you can try the other tricks.
Did you find this article helpful? Do you often suffer from plugged ears? If you have any other useful remedy for popping the ears, do let us know by leaving a comment in our comment section.