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Utah: 435-688-8991 Nevada: 702-896-0031

Why Do Our Ears Pop?

If you’ve ever gone mountain climbing, scuba diving, traveled by air or simply been stuffed up with a cold, you’ve probably experienced ear popping; sometimes known as “airplane ear.” But what causes this?

Inside your ear, you have a structure called the Eustachian tube – a membrane-lined tube about the size of a pencil tip, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose, ending in the upper portion of the throat. This tube frequently opens up wide to keep air pressure equalized so that the pressure inside of the ear is the same as it is outside the ear. When the air pressure is not equal, this results in the ear feeling blocked. When this imbalance occurs, the Eustachian tube allows air to flow in and out of the middle ear to adjust for pressure changes.

why_do_our_ears_pop-1Causes of Ears Popping

Certain conditions can cause the ear to pop, most notably changing pressure rapidly, such as the ascent or descent of an aircraft. The popping noise itself is the air rapidly entering the Eustachian tube. The air already inside absorbs into the ear, causing a vacuum and draining the eardrum inward and expanding it.

Other conditions can also cause this blockage, such as allergies, sinus infections or upper respiratory infections, which are actually some of the most common causes of blocked ears. Congestion in the throat or nose can result in a Eustachian tube blockage that does not allowing air to pass through, resulting in uneven pressure, and subsequent, ear popping.

Remedies for the Condition

While ear popping is usually a simple, minor nuisance for many, it may result in temporary pain and hearing loss. To prevent ear popping, you need to equalize the pressure in the ears. A common remedy is swallowing since this activates muscles connected to the Eustachian tube. You can stimulate this by chewing gum or hard candies.

Since the throat and nose muscles are connected to the ears, you can treat ear blockage with many of the same remedies for curing the common cold or a sinus infection. If you have a sore throat, the tube opening may be swollen closed, and the inner ear pressure cannot be equalized without resulting in eardrum pain. You can try the following:

  • Swallowing hard – This helps open the tube, letting air escape.
  • Yawning – If chewing something doesn’t work, then yawning might help.
  • Pinching the nostrils and taking a deep breath inward – This can equalize ear pressure and may help alleviate the blocked ear.
  • Gargling with warm saltwater – This can also help reduce inflammation.

Avoid holding the nose and blowing in order to clear the ears as this can blow infected mucus from the throat into the inner ear, causing an infection instead.

See a Doctor

If the blockage persists, a nasal spray or decongestant may help. If none of these remedies work, or if persistent ear blockage continues, see your doctor or an otolaryngologist.

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