Is it safe to pop your ears?

Having clogged ears can be uncomfortable and may muffle your hearing. When this happens, popping your ears may help.

Popping your ears is generally safe. It usually requires little more than moving your mouth muscles. Regardless of the technique you try, be gentle. If your symptoms worsen, stop trying to pop your ears and consult your doctor.

If you try to unclog your ears with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, avoid prolonged use. If your symptoms persist, talk to your doctor.

8 ways to pop your ears

There are several techniques you can try to unclog or pop your ears:

1. Swallowing

When you swallow, your muscles automatically work to open the Eustachian tube. This tube connects the middle ear to the back of your nose.

Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can also help activate this response.

2. Yawning

Yawning also helps open the Eustachian tube. If you can’t yawn on cue, try a fake yawn. Open your mouth as wide as it will go while breathing in and out. This may have the same result. Try “yawning” every few minutes until your ears pop.

3. Valsalva maneuver

Pinch your nostrils closed with your fingers. Try to keep your cheeks neutral, or pulled in, rather than puffed out. Next, blow air gently through your nostrils. This generates pressure in the back of the nose, which may help open the Eustachian tube.

4. Toynbee maneuver

For this technique, pinch your nostrils closed with your fingers while swallowing. Some research indicates that the Toynbee maneuver is just as effective as the Valsalva maneuver, though results differ from person to person. You may want to try both to determine which method works best for you.

5. Applying a warm washcloth

Holding a warm washcloth or covered heating pad against the ear can help eliminate congestion and open the Eustachian tube. This method can also feel soothing. It may be most effective if you have clogged ears due to a cold, the flu, or allergies.

6. Nasal decongestants

Unclogging your nasal passageways can help with clogged ears. If you use an OTC nasal decongestant, make sure to follow the directions carefully. You may want to try the Valsalva or Toynbee maneuver after using a decongestant.

7. Nasal corticosteroids

There are many OTC nasal steroids you can try. Nasal steroids may help unclog your ears by reducing the amount of inflammation in the nasal passages. This can help air move more freely through the Eustachian tube, equalizing the pressure in your ears.

8. Ventilation tubes

In extreme cases, your doctor may recommend this simple surgical technique to eliminate pain and reduce pressure. For the procedure, your doctor will administer local anesthesia. Then, they’ll insert thin ventilation tubes, also known as pressure equalizing (PE) tubes, in one or both of your ears to drain out excess fluid.

The procedure takes around ten minutes. It’s usually performed in a doctor’s office, although it may also be done in a hospital. Ventilation tubes are designed to fall out on their own. This typically happens after one or two years.

How does ear popping work?

The Eustachian tube supplies air to the middle ear. This helps maintain equal amounts of pressure on both sides of the eardrum.

If there’s a difference in pressure, your eardrum may bulge inward or outward in response. This causes that familiar feeling of fullness in the ear.

Popping your ears helps move the eardrum back into place, alleviating the imbalance of pressure, and eliminating or reducing your discomfort.

The Eustachian tube typically opens automatically when you swallow, blow your nose, or yawn. When you do these motions, you’ll often hear a clicking, or popping, sound. The sound is caused by air entering the middle ear through the Eustachian tube.

If the tube does not open easily, it may be obstructed. This can be caused by fluid, mucus, or earwax.

What else causes ear popping?

Sometimes your ears may clog and unclog themselves naturally. This usually happens due to changes in the surrounding air pressure. If you’re climbing to a high altitude — for example, flying on an airplane or driving up a high mountain range — your ears may pop as they adjust to the air pressure around you.

When to see your doctor

If you can’t pop or unclog your ears two weeks or longer, or are experiencing pain in the ear, consult your doctor.

Your doctor can rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing this sensation. These may include:

A clogged eardrum can sometimes bulge to the bursting point, leading to a perforated eardrum. This may occur during activities involving rapid pressure changes, such as air travel or scuba diving. A perforated eardrum requires a doctor’s care. This condition typically dissipates within two weeks. Some cases may require an eardrum patch or surgery.

The bottom line

Popping your ears is usually safe and effective, as long as you’re gentle. Ear popping usually works within a few tries. If you have a cold or sinus congestion, a decongestant may also be helpful.

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