When you experience a buildup of pressure in your ears, usually caused by things such as sickness, congestion and even flying, it feels like they need to ‘pop’ – as though whatever is in there needs to break free. It’s a familiar sensation and we’ve all experienced it at least once in our life. It’s a normal body reaction but annoying nevertheless.
Let’s first take a look at why your ears pop or buildup with pressure in the first place…
The Eustachian tube runs right from the centre channel of your ear down along the side of your throat. This channel is designed to manipulate the air to allow for an equalization of pressure and when the ear ‘pops’, that’s the pressure being released or equalized. You can normally hear it when you eat, fly or occasionally, yawn.
The need to pop changes when the pressure changes, either inside the eardrum or outside. When you are flying for example, the cabin pressure drops as you climb up meaning there is more pressure on the inside than the outside, the eardrum bulges and eventually, it will pop.
Looking at things from a different perspective, if you were to go down under water, the pressure would increase and as a result, the ear drum would bulge but this time inwardly.
The Eustachian tube is designed to open on its own when there is a need for it – when the pressure changes inside or outside the inner ear.
When the Eustachian tube doesn’t work…
When you are congested, there is already too much pressure on the ear, nose and throat, and this is definitely the case when you have something like an upper respiratory infection. Your swollen throat stops the tube from closing and opening as it normally would and that’s when you need to know how to unpop your ears.
How to Unpop Your Ears
If your Eustachian tube isn’t doing its job and releasing the pressure on your behalf, there are ways you can manipulate it to pop your ears yourself. Try some of these:
1 – Repeat a yawning motion.
By opening your mouth slowly and deliberately, as if you are mimicking a yawn, you can sometimes encourage an actual yawn to come and that can often help with un-popping the ears. Even opening the mouth wide can encourage the Eustachian tube to do the jobs its meant to do.
2 – Repeat a chewing motion.
Chewing gum can actually help you to pop your ears and again, it’s that jaw-moving motion that does the trick. When you move your jaw and mouth in a chewing action, the tube is released allowing the pressure to be re-stabilized.
Here’s a handy little tip – use eucalyptus or menthol gum and lozenges to help ease the decongestion and you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.
3 – Use heat.
Changing the temperature of something can often alter the state of it. Heat and make things expand and cool temperatures can make things contract. You could try first using a heat pad, or a microwaveable heat pad, on the ear or neck, along the side you are experiencing problems.
You could also try running yourself a bath and completely submerging yourself up to the ears in the water. The pressure of the water can help to equalize the pressure inside your ear.
Some people have suggested that using an ice pack on the ear can have a similar effect but this can make other symptoms worsen such as a headache.
4 – Drink more water.
When you drink more water, you are not only strengthening the swallowing reflex, making it easier for you to pop your ears as and when you need to, but you’re also helping to stabilize the pressure by keeping fluids levels right and balanced within the body.
The best way to use this method when learning how to unpop your ears is to start with ice cold temperature and take large gulps. If that doesn’t work, increase the temperature of the water slowly, still taking large gulps.
5 – Unclog your sinuses.
This is often the easiest approach to take especially if you have other cold and flu symptoms. Over-the-counter remedies work pretty quickly to help relieve sinus congestion, and you could also consider doing an at-home sinus flush. Warm salty water, when flushed through one nostril, will flow through the other one and will help to wash away and clean up any mucus, congestion and even bacteria.
6 – Forced pop.
Although it can be painful in some cases, there is a way you can force the pressure of your popped ears back to normal. Holding your nose and keeping your mouth closed, you should try to breathe out air with a high force. Like you’re blowing your nose but without anything coming out. Blowing your nose could also help though – have you tried that yet?
7 – Ear plunging.
You can use your finger to push the outer part of your ear into your inner part of the ear to form a plunger-effect. If there’s anything there to stop the pressure being equalized, you may find that this does the trick quite nicely.
You can help things along even further by bending at the waist so that your ear is parallel to the floor.