Ear nasal passage diagram on face

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Although we don’t always feel it, the atmosphere has us under a constant state of pressure. You’ll feel that pressure in your ears when you find yourself at a different level of the atmosphere. This occurs most often when flying, but you can experience pressure pain even when you go up to the top floor of a skyscraper, driving over a mountain pass, or even going upstairs to head to bed.

Think of your ears as an airlock. When the pressure changes on the outside, either the heavy pressure outside will press against your ears or the thinner pressure outside causes the heavier pressures inside to press outward. Knowing how to pop your ears can help you to normalize this pressure so you aren’t dealing with pressure-related pain for a long period of time.

Here are the steps you’ll want to follow:

  1. Take a decongestant. Before you try anything else, there’s a good chance that the pressure in your ears is being caused by a mild inflammation. If you can resolve that inflammation, then the pressure pain may go away. Decongestants do a wonderful job of relieving this pain. You may wish to take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or another pain reliever with the decongestant to help with severe pain that may still linger. 
  1. Try yawning. Many people associated a yawn with extreme levels of boredom. Even the official definition of the word “yawn” says this. Yet there is some evidence to suggest that yawning helps to equalize pressure in the ears and helps even out internal body temperatures as well. Some research even suggests that yawning may cool the brain. Sure – it might be contagious, but that’s a good thing if it helps relieve the pressure in your ears. A couple good yawns, especially as the pressures are about to change, can work wonders. 
  1. The head rotation trick sometimes works. This is a variation of holding your nose and filling your lungs with air. Try this trick instead to avoid ripping your ear drums wide open. Hold your nose, but close your mouth instead of taking a deep breath. Turn your head toward your left shoulder and then swallow as hard as you can. This should pop your left ear. Then repeat with the right ear and you should be good to go. Repeat as necessary as pressure levels change. 
  1. Move your jaw around a bit. Sometimes just the movement of your jaw is enough to cause your ears to pop. That may be why yawning can be so effective. If you need more movement, however, consider having some chewing gum on hand to assist with the issue. Just chew the gum until you reach the altitude where you’ll be and then keep chewing it whenever the altitude changes. You’ll need to have a couple of sticks of gum at the ready to make this happen. 
  1. Suck on a piece of hard candy. This process is much like the gum chewing process. Work the candy around your mouth on both sides, sucking as hard as you can on it without chewing it or accidentally swallowing it. This action will help to equalize the pressure. 
  1. The heating pad trick. If you’re at home instead of on the road or in an airplane, then changing the internal temperature of the ear canal can be enough to cause your ears to pop. A heating pad is especially helpful for those times when you get water in your ear from a shower or bath and it gets blocked up in there to cause the pressure issue. 

What you shouldn’t try doing is sticking something in your ear canal to change the pressure so your ears will pop. Sometimes you’ll find a recommendation to use a finger to pop your ears or to stick a cotton swab in there. Because this can cause an injury or even cause damage to your ear drum, this is not a recommended method of popping your ears. You can use your fingers to put pressure on the outside of your ear, but don’t place anything inside the ear canal. 

And sometimes you can do everything right and the pressure won’t equalize for you. In this instance, you may have a more serious infection of the sinuses or a malformation in the ear canal for some reason that is causing the issue to remain. Contact a medical professional in this circumstance for advice on how to pop your ears. 

Having the pressure inside your head different than the pressure outside your head can be excruciatingly painful. Knowing how to pop your ears when there are pressure changes, even if you’re just scuba diving, will allow you to manage this condition effectively. Also, remember to wear hearing protection when necessary and your hearing will have the best chance of remaining unaffected and healthy.