This is a very common syndrome. Most of us are aware of moments when we need to release pressure in our ears. This is sometimes called popping or ‘equalizing’ your ears by adjusting the pressure inside them, and when we do it successfully we feel like we have our hearing back!
Popping your ears is a natural and simple procedure that can help you head off discomfort and pain caused by blockages in the ear.
Causes for Pressure Imbalance
For most people, the experience of flying is perhaps when we most notice our ears need popping. The blocked feeling comes because the air pressure inside and outside of your ear canals is not the same. When you fly, the altitude changes, so the pressure around you changes as well, resulting in a difference between the pressure on the inside and outside of your ear.
Swimming is both a cause of ear pressure changes, but it is also the case that swimming can help rectify those changes. Most of us who swim will at some point have ‘water in our ears’, as we say, and it can feel like an ocean has entered there! In fact, it is likely to be a very small amount of water, but the sensitivity of your ears makes it feel a greater problem than it is.
The most effective way to safely unblock your ears is to pinch your nose and blow out against it. This will create pressure to equalize the water pressure on the inside and outside of your eardrums. But be careful, if done incorrectly, you could damage your hearing, so do not blow excessively hard or suddenly, as the eardrum may be damaged. The damage is unlikely to be permanent, but it can be sore and you really want to avoid causing any injury to yourself.
Sinus pressure buildup in your ears and face can come because your sinuses are congested. An effect of this overall sinus congestion is to leave your ears feeling blocked, and the pressure in each ear feeling lopsided.
Sinus congestion is a common problem that occurs when the cavities around the nasal passages become filled with air. This can lead to pain and pressure in the head, neck and face, as well as a stuffy or blocked nose.
To alleviate sinus congestion, and therefore help pop and rebalance the ears, the following approaches can be extremely effective.
- Steam inhalation: Sitting in a warm, steamy room can help to break down mucus and clear your nasal passages.
- Nasal irrigation: Flushing out your nasal passages with a saline solution can help to clear out any irritants and bacteria.
- Humidification: Using a humidifier in your home or office can help to keep your nasal passages moist and reduce the sensation of pressure.
You are, however, unlikely to need to do all three! Remember that it is often only a modest alteration to our situation that can lead to the ears being unblocked successfully.
Symptoms of Pressure Imbalance
Hearing loss is complex, and a major limitation on life. If you have serious loss of hearing you are wise to get it checked out by an auricular specialist.
However, it’s possible you simply need to adjust the pressure in your ears. Even noisy environments can sometimes make you feel deaf, when in fact it is an issue with the pressure in your ears caused by excessive noise.
Heating loss can also be caused by excessive wax in the ear, so that the effect is to limit your hearing to only a small fraction of its potential. In those circumstances, you may feel it is a pressure problem you can easily rectify alone, but the truth is you will need to have your ears professionally irrigated or syringed or ‘hoovered’ with a suction tool.
Ringing in Ears
Many of us have experienced this sensation. It can often come suddenly.
The ringing in your ears may be caused by a variety of things, including exposure to loud noises, age-related hearing loss, infection, or even a side effect of certain medications. In some cases, it could even be due to an underlying condition, such as an acoustic neuroma.
No matter what the cause may be, if you’re experiencing ringing in your ears, it’s important to get it checked out by a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are treatments available to reduce this discomfort, so be reassured that this symptom can be relieved without undue worry.
Auricular pain can be really sore. Earache is one of the most surprisingly intense pains we can have.
Its causes are various, and it can be triggered by an infection, an injury, or even air pressure changes. In fact, when you fly, you may feel a real stab of pain as the pressure changes in the cabin. If your earache is just because of simple things like a sudden change in air pressure when traveling, popping your ears, or swallowing liquid, will usually suffice.
If the earache is much more painful, so that you are having genuine feelings of swelling and sudden stabs of pain that keep coming back, you must see a doctor, as you may need more significant meds, such as an antibiotic, if you have a bacterial infection. Do not try to second guess earache. Get proper advice.
Feeling of Clogging
Have you ever felt like your ears were clogged, or like there was something blocking your hearing? If so, be careful, as it can be a sign of an impending ear infection, or of excessive waxy build-up.
Typically, it’s a numb feeling, and you may feel a sort of numbness on your cheeks too, just under your earlobe. You may also experience a dull ache, pressure, itching, or the sensation of water in your ear canal.
While the chances are the issue is ear blockage with wax, you should not let these symptoms linger. Get them checked at a clinic or by your doctor.
Tips to Pop Your Ears
Blow your nose gently
Blowing your nose pushes air up into the eustachian tubes and helps equalize the pressure in your inner ear. This can help in resolving the issue of clogged ears. It’s important to use a light touch and avoid doing it too forcefully, since too much pressure can cause harm to the ear canals and eardrums. As with all approaches to the ear, take care, and be progressive.
Chew gum, suck a sweet, or yawn
Swallowing repeated mouthfuls of saliva, which are in particular generated by sucking or chewing, activate muscles and create a pressure change in your eustachian tubes that can help your ears to pop. Yawning also helps by increasing the air pressure in your throat and mouth, which aids in unblocking the eustachian tubes too.
When you drink water, it helps maintain the balance of fluids in the body, including in the ear. This can improve all kinds of ear problems, from an issue with balance to a feeling of pressure in the ears.
It’s important to remember that you should drink plenty of water anyway, as it’s so essential to our health and wellbeing. But if you’re suffering from ear pressure, effective hydration can be extremely beneficial.
Use Valsalva Maneuver
Few people wander around knowing about the valsalva maneuver! Put simply, the valsalva maneuver is a way of pushing air from your lungs so that it can equalize the pressure between your ears and the outside environment.
To perform it effectively, take a deep breath and pinch your nose. Then, use the air from your lungs to attempt to push air out, creating a popping sound. It may take a few rounds of practice, but it is actually not that difficult to do well.
During this process, you might feel a bit of discomfort in your ears, but this should pass quickly. Keep in mind, you should never blow too hard, as this could damage your eardrums.
Use Ear Drops
For many people, ear drops are the first port of call for ear pressure problems. They are typically oils or water-based liquids that are used to moisten the ear canal and can help to naturally pop your ears. When applied to the ear canal, the drops create a thin film of liquid that helps regulate air pressure and allows for equalization between the outside and inside of the ear.
In addition, the properties of the drops can reduce any inflammation or blockage in the ear canal, leading to improved hearing.
Ear drops can be purchased over the counter or ordered online, so it’s easy to find the best product for your needs. That said, do not overuse them! It can be tempting to drop in more liquid than is necessary, but in fact only a small amount of liquid is ever required to ensure the process works. Too much liquid can sometimes even add to the problems of liquids blocking the ear, especially if the drops are oil based.
Preventing Pressure Imbalance
Be careful when swimming
If you wish to swim, but wish to avoid ear pressure issues, use a stroke that keeps your head above the water. Alternatively, use earplugs that stop the water entering your ear canal.
A word on earplugs, however. Make sure that the ear plugs you choose fit properly and comfortably. If they are too tight, they could cause more damage than good. The second point to note is that ear plugs help keep water out, but they won’t help you equalize pressure in your ears. So, if you’re diving deep, you’ll quite possibly still need to clear your ears manually.
If you are in fact diving deep, then really do be aware of the implicit pressure that puts on your ears. It can be a very great change for them to be significantly underwater.
Avoid flying in a plane if you have a cold
This may seem unduly cautious, but do just be aware. When you have a cold, your eustachian tubes, the tiny tubes connecting your nose to your ears, can become blocked. This can lead to a more severe build-up of pressure and make it harder to pop your ears, which can be incredibly painful, especially when added to by the pressure of a cabin and the change in altitude from flying.
Take decongestant prior to flying
These meds can assist with the implicit pressure changes that come from flying. If you are susceptible to ear issues, taking a mild decongestant can help to reduce congestion in the nose and sinuses, thereby allowing air pressure to be better regulated in your ear. This will make it less likely for your ears to pop excessively during the flight.