Have you ever had the painful and annoying sensation of your ears feeling full or clogged? Well, this condition is medically termed ear barotrauma.
Ear barotrauma usually happens when a person is sick or faces changes in altitude, such as in situations like flying on an airplane, driving up a mountain, or descending at the beginning of a scuba dive.
One of the most effective ways recommended for treating this condition is by popping the ears gently. However, it is essential to learn how to pop your ear easily and effectively.
Intrigued to know more about this sensation and how you can pop your ears effectively? Read on for more information about this common experience.
1. What Causes the Ears to Get Blocked?
1.1. Blocked Eustachian Tubes
If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, commonly known as eustachian tube dysfunction.
The most common cause of blocked Eustachian tubes is a stuffy nose, such as a head cold or sinus infection. A buildup of earwax is also a common cause of blocked or obstructed Eustachian tubes.
When the eustachian tubes are blocked, it prevents the air bubble from moving into the middle ear, eventually creating a vacuum and pulling on the eardrum.
This can be uncomfortable and cause other ear problems, such as hearing loss and dizziness.
1.2. Changing Air Pressure
Most people notice that their ears feel worse in a plane during take-off and landing when the airplane is making a quick ascent or descent.
This is because the air pressure within the ear is usually the same as the pressure outside of the ear. However, the air pressure is not the same in higher or lower altitudes, such as when flying on an airplane or scuba diving.
It can also happen anytime there are rapid altitude or pressure changes.
1.3. Airplane Ear
Ears getting clogged mostly can be observed when flying, and the situation is commonly termed as airplane ear.
The airplane ear happens when the pneumatic stress inside a plane influences your ears. When a plane takes off or begins its plunge to land, the quick change in height changes the pneumatic stress inside the plane.
At the point when this occurs, you might see an uncomfortable blockage in the ears. When the ears adjust after landing, it disappears.
In a few cases, the pain or clogged feeling might remain. If this occurs, you should converse with a medical services supplier. They may provide immediate medical advice to get relief from the pain.
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.
2. How to Pop the Ears
2.1. Pop Your Ears by Flexing Your Jaw
The first method used to pop your ears is by flexing your jaw muscles. In some cases, flexing the muscles behind the jaw will help in popping your ears. This flexing can open the Eustachian tube to release ear pressure.
This method may be a little gentler on your ears than using your nose to pop your ears. If you’re flying or using an elevator and feel a pressure change, you can work your jaw to avoid a buildup of pressure in your ears.
You will know your ears popping when you hear a ‘click’ sound.
Chewing gum during pressure changes is also a common method to pop your ears. Chewing gum or sucking on a hard candy helps your mouth salivate more and causes frequent swallowing.
The action of moving your jaw to chew can also equalize the pressure in your ears effectively.
2.2. Pop Your Ears by Yawning
By opening your mouth to yawn, you are swallowing air. This movement of your mouth can help to pop your ears.
2.3. Pop Your Ears by Swallowing
Another method to pop your ears is by swallowing water or any other beverage. It will help to pop your ears by equalizing the pressure.
Most people notice a little clicking or popping noise in the ear when they swallow. This is because the eustachian tubes help drain fluid from the ear and regulate air pressure between the nose and ears.
Swallowing opens that tube and allows a small air bubble to move from the nose and into the ear.
The air is continuously absorbed into the lining of the ear. This process helps to keep air pressure on both sides of the eardrum the same.
A more intense method to pop your ears while swallowing is to hold your nostrils closed. This creates a vacuum in your nose that helps your Eustachian tubes to open.
NOTE – Infants sometimes find it difficult to clear their ears, as they cannot 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 to clear their ears.
2.4. Blow Through Your Nose
Next on our list of how to pop your ears effectively is the method of blowing through your nose. There are 3 methods to do so
- Toynbee move: Pinch your nose and swallow.
- Frenzel maneuver: Pinch your nose while getting your throat muscles, and make the sound of the letter “k.”
- Toynbee Maneuver: This is just swallowing in a fancy way. Close your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), keep your mouth shut, and swallow.
Some people will pinch their nose and blow against the closed nose too. This usually leads to popping your ears only in a few tries.
3. Why Your Ears Won’t Pop
Typically, there are a few circumstances when your Eustachian cylinders may experience trouble adjusting, and it is essential to acknowledge that these anomalies can cause issues in the future.
If your ear does not get popped and you continue to feel pressure, pain, and the sensation of your ears being plugged, you may have an underlying ear disorder that affects the function of your auditory eustachian tubes. The following problems can affect the ability of your ears to pop.
3.1. Fluid in the Ear
Fluid in the ear may prevent popping your ears as the thickened fluid blocks the auditory tube, which prevents fluid from draining into the back of the throat, which creates a pressure difference.
Sometimes this is caused by infection. Other names for fluid retention in the ear include serous otitis media, glue ear, and otitis media with effusion.
The surgical insertion usually treats fluid in the ear of synthetic ear tubes, which allows the ear to drain and equalize pressure.
3.2. Excessive Ear Wax
Too much ear wax (cerumen) can also impair the function of your auditory tube. Wax can be removed with special ear drops that dissolve the wax by irrigation or with a special instrument called a cerumen spoon, which the doctor uses to “dig” the wax out of the ear.
This doesn’t mean you should run out and buy some ear candles or stick a cotton swab down your ear, as this will likely push the wax down further. This type of ear wax blockage needs to be removed by a professional, preferably an ENT doctor.
Too much mucus can gum up your auditory tube and make it difficult to maintain the pressure in the middle ear space. As a result, air pressure decreases in the middle ear, and the ears feel plugged.
Congestion related to allergies can be helped by taking a decongestant medication before getting on an airplane or going on trips that will cause changes in pressure.
A cold virus is also a common cause of congestion. Still, if it lasts longer than about three weeks, you may be dealing with allergies or another condition that a physician should evaluate.
3.4. Patulous Eustachian Tube
A patulous eustachian tube is a very rare disorder in which the auditory tube fails to close and remains open all of the time. Besides feeling as though your ears are plugged, symptoms of a patulous eustachian tube include:
- Autophony (when your voice seems abnormally loud to you)
- Hearing your breathing.
Sometimes, it can be because of bacterial infections. An ear infection occurs when a bacterial or viral infection affects the middle ear.
Different alternatives for clearing plugged ears might include nasal decongestants, but those should not be used for more than a couple of days. Usually, an ENT will help control symptoms from any of the above problems with either medications or surgery.
4. When to See the Doctor?
If your symptoms worsen, stop trying to pop your ears and consult your doctor. Someone with clogged ears should see their doctor if they cannot pop their ears using these strategies.
Anyone experiencing persistent pain or discomfort in their ear should contact their doctor sooner.
The doctor may suggest medication, such as decongestants or steroids, to help clear the ear or antibiotics if a person has an ear infection.
In rare cases, surgery may be required to help open the eardrum, drain the liquid, and equalize pressure in the ear.
For the treatment, your physician will administer local anesthesia. Then, at that point, they’ll insert slim ventilation tubes, also known as pressure-equalizing(PE) tubes, in either of your ears to empty excess liquid.
Ventilation tubes, in severe cases, drain fluid and relieve pressure. The process takes around ten minutes. It’s usually performed in a doctor’s office.
Call your physician for treatment if you experience other symptoms, such as:
- Ear drainage
- Bleeding from the ear
- Experience ear pain
Surgical methods include removing the surrounding tissue blocking drainages, such as the tonsils or adenoids.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How long does an airplane ear last?
An airplane ear usually has mild symptoms that last a few minutes. However, you may need to consult your doctor to check for another issue if it lasts longer.
2. Is it OK to fly with blocked ears?
Try to stay away from flying if you have a sinus or ear infection. These issues obstruct the Eustachian tubes, increasing the eardrum’s pressure which is susceptible to rupture whenever there is persistently increased pressure on it.
It is important to acknowledge all the information on this website is for informational purposes only. In severe cases, it is a must to consult a doctor and get proper treatment. Any website on the internet doesn’t provide any diagnosis.
Diagnosis or treatment should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice.