Ever flown across the friendly skies and had that feeling your ears were filled up and ready to pop any minute? Ear popping is caused by pressure differences between the inside and outside of the eardrum. Air pressure in the middle ear usually is the same as air pressure outside the body. Most people are familiar and can cope with the pressure changes (relieved by ear popping) that occur when you fly, travel to high altitudes, or dive underwater. In most cases, swallowing or yawning helps relieve the pressure by opening the eustachian tube, which then connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and upper throat. Opening the tube allows air to flow into or out of the middle ear and equalizes pressure on the eardrum.
No Need to Panic
While annoying, this problem usually isn’t serious. It rarely leads to a perforated eardrum, an acute ear infection, or even loss of hearing. However, be sure to see your doctor if you develop a fever, severe ear pain, or drainage from an ear. In most cases, “ear popping” stems from nasal congestion related to allergy, a sinus condition, or a chronic upper respiratory infection. In addition to sniffing, yawning or swallowing, you may be able to relieve the pressure by gargling with warm salt water, which can help clear the eustachian tubes. Sucking on candy or chewing gum may also help. You also might consider using a nasal decongestant or an antihistamine before flying or other changes in altitude. Try to avoid flying when you have a cold or flare-up of an allergy.
It’s worth knowing when your ears are causing you something that is simply annoying, rather than a situation that calls for medical attention. When in doubt, you can always have a hearing screening. For a free hearing screening please contact Sonus® Hearing Care Professionals at: 888.574.6776.