How Do I Relieve Pressure in My Ear?

  • Medical Author: John Mersch, MD, FAAP
  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Ask the experts

How do I relieve pressure in my ear?

Doctor's response

The Eustachian tube originates in the rear of the nose adjacent to the soft palate, runs a slightly uphill course, and ends in the middle ear space. The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear space to the rear of the nose near the soft palate. The middle ear space is the hollowed out portion of the skull bone that contains the hearing apparatus and is covered on one side by the eardrum.

The tissue that lines the Eustachian tube is similar to that inside the nasal cavity and may respond the same way (swelling and mucous production) when presented with similar stimuli. Normally, the Eustachian tube is closed, but it can become partially or completely blocked as a consequence of common colds or allergies. Partial or complete blockage of the Eustachian tube can cause sensations of popping, clicking, and ear fullness. Altitude changes can cause symptoms in persons with Eustachian tube problems.

Several maneuvers can be done to improve Eustachian tube function.

  • The simple act of swallowing activates the muscles in the back of the throat that help open the Eustachian tube. Any activity that promotes swallowing can help open the Eustachian tube, for example, chewing gum, drinking, or eating. Yawning is even more effective because it is a stronger muscle activator.
  • If the ears still feel full, the person can try to forcibly open the Eustachian tube by taking a deep breath and blowing while pinching your nostrils and closing the mouth. When a "pop" is felt, you know you have succeeded. If problems persist despite trying to forcibly open the tubes you may need to seek medical attention. If you feel dizzy performing this maneuver, then stop and discuss this with your doctor.
  • If you have a cold, sinus infection, ear infection, or suffering from allergies, it may be advisable to postpone air travel.
  • Similarly, individuals with Eustachian tube problems may find such sports as scuba diving painful, and in some situations quite dangerous.
  • Babies traveling on airplanes cannot intentionally pop their ears, but may do so if they are sucking on a bottle or pacifier. Crying, similar in function to yawning, will also enable equalization of air pressure.

For more information, read our full medical article on Eustachian tube problems for more information.

REFERENCE:

"Eustachian tube dysfunction"
UpToDate.com

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Reviewed on 10/9/2017
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