I Ve Tried Everything And My Ear Won T Pop

If you’ve tried everything and your ears won’t pop, you might be dealing with an underlying condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare provider.

How to pop your ears: Eight effective methods

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A number of strategies can help when a person’s ears feel full or clogged and needing to pop. Yawning, swallowing, and chewing gum can often solve this problem. Certain maneuvers may help, and medical devices are also available.

Ear barotrauma 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.

What is this sensation and how can a person make their ears pop? Read on for more information about this common experience.

Girl with painful ears on a plane wondering how to pop your 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:

Yawn

Yawning helps to open the eustachian tubes. Try forcing a yawn several times until the ears pop open.

Swallow

Swallowing helps to activate the muscles that open the eustachian tube. Sipping water or sucking on hard candy can help to increase the need to swallow.

Valsalva maneuver

If yawning and swallowing do not work, take a deep breath and pinch the nose shut. Keeping the mouth closed, try to blow air through the nose gently.

It is best to be cautious when performing this maneuver because there is a small risk of rupturing the eardrum.

Toynbee maneuver

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.

Frenzel maneuver

To perform this maneuver, pinch the nose closed and use the tongue to make a clicking or “K” sound.

Chewing gum

Chewing gum helps increase swallowing because it stimulates saliva production. Also, the chewing motion can also help to open the eustachian tubes.

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:

  • Special earplugs: These special earplugs claim to help to 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 especially helpful in children or other people who are not able to use the Valsalva correctly.
  • EarPopper: The EarPopper is a prescription device that can help to open the eustachian tubes. Simply insert the device into one nostril, close the other, and push a button. The device releases small puffs of air through the nose and into the eustachian tubes.

Many devices are available to buy online to help people pop their ears safely.

Medication

Seasoned travelers often take a decongestant when they fly. Both pills and intranasal sprays can work, though an older study found oral medication to be more effective.

Taking the medicine 30 minutes before take-off or landing can help to shrink the mucous membranes in the nose and eustachian tubes, making it easier to clear the ears.

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.

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.

What to Do When Your Ears Won’t Pop

Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.

John Carew, MD, is board-certified in otolaryngology and is an adjunct assistant professor at New York University Medical Center.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

When your ears are blocked, there are several ways to help them pop. Sometimes swallowing, yawning, or chewing gum can help. But how do these techniques help clear your ears?

Your body usually balances the air pressure on both sides of your eardrum. When the pressure changes between the middle ear and the outside, you will feel like your ears are plugged. If there’s a lot of pressure change, it might even hurt.

How to Pop Your Ears

In some cases, the air in your middle ear can have trouble adjusting to the pressure. This can happen when you are diving in water or flying in an airplane. It could even happen when you drive up or down a steep mountain.

Your middle ear usually adjusts to the pressure difference eventually. When it does, you will feel your ears pop. Sometimes you may need to help equalize the pressure by yawning or swallowing.

Certain medical conditions may impact your ability to pop your ears. When this happens, you may need to see a healthcare provider.

This article discusses why your ears may feel plugged and the best ways to pop your ears fast. It also explains some of the conditions that can make it hard to pop your ears and relieve the pressure.

What Causes the Feeling of Plugged Ears?

If your ears won’t pop, you’ll be stuck with a full or plugged feeling in your ears. Pressure in your ears that won’t go away can be caused by several things.

The eustachian tubes connect each middle ear to the upper part of your throat. They are also called auditory tubes. The popping sensation you feel happens when air moves from the upper part of your throat and nose through the eustachian tube into your middle ear.

Any medical condition that affects your eustachian tubes can prevent you from being able to pop your ears easily.

Effective Ways to Pop Your Ears

If you’ve tried everything and your ears won’t pop, take a look at this list. There might be a few ideas for unclogging your ears that you hadn’t thought of, such as:

  • Swallowing
  • Yawning
  • Chewing gum
  • Sucking on hard candy
  • Using decongestants like Afrin (oxymetazoline) or Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) before traveling
  • Applying a warm compress to your ear
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If those steps don’t make your ears pop, there are also some other strategies you can try:

  • Valsalva maneuver: Inhale. Pinch your nose closed. Keeping lips closed, try to blow out forcefully, as if you are blowing up a balloon. Bear down as if you are having a bowel movement. This increases pressure in the sinuses and middle ears, helping them pop.
  • Toynbee maneuver: Keep your mouth closed, pinch your nose shut, and swallow. This increases pressure in the nose, throat, and inner ears, helping ears pop.

If you are traveling with an infant or toddler, try giving them a bottle, pacifier, or drink.

If the pressure difference continues and can’t pop your ears, you may experience ear pain. It is also possible for this to lead to barotrauma, which is a ruptured eardrum.

Why Your Ears Won’t Pop

If you feel pressure, pain, or your ears feel plugged, but they won’t pop, you may have an ear disorder. Disorders that affect the function of your auditory tube can cause this problem.

Fluid in the Ear

If your ears won’t pop you might have fluid in your ears. Thickened fluid blocks the auditory tube and prevents the fluid from draining into the back of the throat. Sometimes this is caused by an ear infection.

This condition has a few different names, including:

  • Serous otitis media
  • Glue ear
  • Otitis media with effusion

The adenoids are patches of tissue located high in your throat. When they become enlarged, they may block the auditory tubes, causing fluid to get trapped in the ear. This can also happen when the tissues in your nasal passages become swollen.

If the auditory tube is blocked by surrounding tissue, the tissue may have to be removed.

Frequent issues with fluid in the ear can be treated with a surgical procedure to insert artificial ear tubes. They let the ear drain and equalize pressure.

If you have ear tubes, your ears will not pop. This is because the tube will automatically equalize pressure.

Excessive Earwax

Ears that won’t pop can also be caused by having a buildup of earwax. Too much earwax can also impair the function of your auditory tube. There are a few ways that your healthcare provider can remove the earwax. It can usually be done in their office.

Wax can be removed with special ear drops that dissolve the wax. It can also be flushed out with water. The healthcare provider can also use a special instrument called a cerumen spoon to remove the wax.

Do not use ear candles or cotton swabs to remove wax. This may push the wax down further.

A heavy earwax blockage should be removed by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT).

Congestion

If your ears won’t pop and you’ve had a cold recently, you might have mucus in your ears. Too much mucus can make it hard to maintain pressure in the middle ear space. If you have allergies, try taking a decongestant before boarding an airplane or going on a road trip to a higher elevation.

Cold viruses also cause congestion, but if this symptom lasts longer than about three weeks, see a healthcare provider. Your congestion may be caused by allergies or another condition.

Patulous Eustachian Tube

Sometimes, having ears that won’t pop no matter what you try is a sign that there’s something wrong with your ear tubes.

Patulous eustachian tube is a disorder in which the tube is always open. It is an uncommon condition. Symptoms include:

  • The sensation of plugged ears
  • Tinnitus , a ringing sound in the ear
  • Autophony, when your voice seems abnormally loud to you
  • Hearing your own breathing

If you have patulous eustachian tube, keeping hydrated is crucial. Be sure to drink enough fluids throughout the day and consider using a humidifier at night.

Treatment for patulous eustachian tube includes non-invasive methods and surgery. Nasal sprays including saline, antihistamines, decongestants, or corticosteroids may be recommended. However, medicated nasal sprays can sometimes make it worse.

Ear tubes are effective about half the time. Other treatments include cauterizing the eustachian tube, injection of cartilage-fillers, and manipulating the muscles around the eustachian tube.

Other Causes

When you’ve tried everything to get your ears to pop and have not been successful, you might need to see a provider to find out if you have a problem with your ears. Some other conditions that can cause problems with your auditory tube include:

  • Sinusitis, an infection of your nasal passages
  • Nasal polyps, which are growths in your nasal passages
  • Enlarged turbinates. Turbinates are structures in your nasal passages that help warm and humidify the air you breathe in.
  • Tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils

Usually, an ENT practitioner will be able to help treat or manage any of the above problems. Your ENT may prescribe medications. In some cases, ear surgery may be required.

These conditions may make it uncomfortable or painful to travel. See a healthcare provider ahead of time so you can resolve these problems before you go.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If at-home treatments to get your ears to pop don’t work in a day or two, or if your symptoms worsen, you may have a sinus or ear infection. These symptoms warrant a call to your healthcare provider or a trip to a walk-in clinic:

  • Severe headache or facial pain
  • Pain and congestion that worsens after improving
  • Fever that lasts longer than 72 hours

When to Seek Emergency Treatment

A ruptured eardrum—a hole or tear in your eardrum—is serious and can cause hearing loss. See a healthcare provider right away if you have these symptoms of a ruptured eardrum:

  • Blood or fluid draining from the ear
  • An intense earache followed by a pop and sudden relief of pain
  • Difficulty hearing

Summary

If your ears won’t pop, it can lead to a lot of discomfort. The sensation of having clogged ears happens when your body can’t equalize the pressure in your ears because your eustachian (auditory) tubes are blocked. Some of the best ways to pop your ears are yawning, swallowing, or chewing. Taking decongestants may also help make your ears pop fast.

There are a number of conditions that can cause a blocked feeling in your ears, including fluid in the ear, excess earwax, and congestion. Some problems like sinusitis and tonsillitis may require treatment by a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

If you’ve tried everything and your ears won’t pop, you might be dealing with an underlying condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare provider.

Ear problems that affect the ability to equalize pressure can be bothersome or even painful. They may get in the way of your enjoyment of activities like traveling by plane and scuba diving. Sometimes you won’t know you have a problem until you are already participating in the activity.

If your ears do not pop and you feel like they are clogged or you are experiencing significant ear pain, see a healthcare provider. You should also see a healthcare provider at once if you have symptoms of a ruptured eardrum.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prevent airplane ear?

  • Take a decongestant 30 minutes to an hour before traveling
  • Use ear plugs
  • Chew gum or repeatedly yawn as the plane takes off and lands
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What to do when ears do not pop

From altitude changes to ear infections, there are many reasons why pressure may build up in the ears. Sometimes, the pressure is easy to relieve, but on occasion, it takes a little longer.

Pressure in the ears develops when air and fluid block one of the major ear tubes, causing what is medically known as ear barotrauma.

The most common places for pressure to develop in the ear are the middle ear and the eustachian tube, which runs from the top of the throat to near the eardrum.

Children and babies are more susceptible to pressure-related blockages in the ears, as they have narrower Eustachian tubes than adults.

In this article, we discuss why people feel pressure in their ears, ways to relieve pressure when the ears do not pop, and tips to prevent it in the future.

A man thinks,

The ears rely on pressure to function. It is because of pressure waves , which increase and decrease slightly, that people are able to hear.

However, the pressure within the ear must match the pressure outside the body. If the pressure either inside or outside the body becomes too high or too low, the ear will try to adapt to regain the balance.

This creates the feeling of the ears needing to pop.

Many factors can cause pressure to build up in the ears. Outside the body, air pressure may change with altitude changes, while depth changes alter hydrostatic pressure in water.

Activities in which altitude and hydrostatic pressure can change include :

  • flying on an airplane
  • scuba diving
  • commercial diving
  • hyperbaric oxygen treatment

Internal causes, such as congestion, can induce a buildup of air or fluid in the eustachian tube in the ear. This buildup creates a feeling of pressure in the ears.

The blockage to the eustachian tube may come from:

  • earwax
  • water
  • fluid and mucus from a sinus infection
  • seasonal allergies, such as hay fever

When pressure builds up in the ears, it can cause pain and discomfort, but it can also affect the person’s hearing and cause dizziness.

To relieve pressure, people can first try to pop the ears by opening the eustachian tube. They can do this by:

  • yawning
  • chewing gum
  • screaming
  • swallowing
  • wiggling the jaw
  • exhaling gently against a closed airway in the Valsalva maneuver

If possible, sucking on hard candy, such as a lollipop, can be a nice, gentle way of keeping the ear tubes open. For a baby, sucking on a bottle or pacifier can have the same effect.

People can try to prepare before an activity that is likely to increase the pressure in the ears. For instance, it may help to begin wiggling the jaw just before a plane takes off so that the ears have longer to adjust to the outside pressure.

Treatments for pressure in the ears can be either preventive, such as for a person about to take a flight, or curative, for those who have blocked ears that they cannot pop.

A doctor may prescribe preventive treatments if a person has preexisting ear problems.

For people without severe problems, a pharmacy will sell over-the-counter (OTC) nasal sprays and decongestants that can release pressure in the ears. One example is oral pseudoephedrine .

OTC options are suitable for scuba divers to take before a descent or air travelers to take before a flight. However, a person should not use them too frequently as their extended use can result in complications.

For instance, decongestant nasal sprays may stop offering relief and instead increase congestion if a person overuses them.

To relieve pressure after it has built up in the ears, a doctor can dilate the eustachian tube. To do this, they may use a eustachian tube balloon dilation or a pressure equalization tube, which releases fluid and pressure from the eardrum to the ear canal.

If these treatments do not work, a doctor may perform a surgical incision in the eardrum to release fluid and pressure. Surgery may also be necessary if a person ruptures their eardrum.

Scientists are still conducting research, but a device known as an Ear Popper , which delivers a stream of air through the nasal cavity to clear the area, may soon be available.

It is important to be cautious when relieving pressure in the ears, as an excessive pressure change in the ear may cause a burst or ruptured eardrum, also called a perforated tympanic membrane.

If the eardrum ruptures, it can cause other complications, including :

  • hearing loss
  • ear infection
  • vertigo
  • chronic pain
  • injury to the external ear

The best way to prevent a pressure buildup in the ears depends on the cause. If a person knows that they are about to participate in an activity with an increase or decrease in external pressure, they can prepare by treating the problem before it begins.

For example, a person can reduce the chances of blocked ears while scuba diving by keeping the pressure inside the ears in line with the pressure of the outside environment.

Divers do this by continually equalizing, which involves pinching the nose and gently blowing out. They do this throughout the dive but with particular attention during descent. Scuba divers also follow a golden rule of never holding their breath while underwater, as this can cause pulmonary barotrauma .

Another example is in hyperbaric chambers , where people undergo a form of oxygen therapy. Here, doctors minimize the chances of pressure building up in the ears by controlling the compression rate and consistency of the pressure within the chamber.

As we discussed above, a person can reduce the buildup of pressure during a flight by sucking on candy, wiggling the jaw, or using other similar methods to keep the eustachian tube open.

Regularly inhaling tobacco smoke increases the risk of severely blocked ears. A person may be able to lower the pressure in their ears by refraining from smoking.

The ears rely on a fine balance of pressure to function effectively. If the balance between the pressure within the ear and that outside the body changes, the ears will adapt to match the external pressure. This creates the sensation of ears feeling as though they need to pop.

Before an activity that may put pressure on the ears, such as flying, people can try popping the ears before the pressure becomes too great.

If the ears will not pop, it is important not to force them. While pressure in the ears can be highly uncomfortable, it is generally not dangerous, and a rapid change of pressure in the ear can put the eardrum at risk.

It sometimes takes a few days for the pressure to balance out, but a person will then notice a “pop” as the eustachian tube clears.

Last medically reviewed on August 12, 2020

  • Ear, Nose, and Throat
  • Pain / Anesthetics

How we reviewed this article:

Medical News Today has strict sourcing guidelines and draws only from peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical journals and associations. We avoid using tertiary references. We link primary sources — including studies, scientific references, and statistics — within each article and also list them in the resources section at the bottom of our articles. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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