How to Pop Your Ears and Relieve Pressure

Clogged ears feel like an uncomfortable pressure inside your ear canal that muffles your hearing. You've probably felt this sensation as you reach altitude in an airplane or have a sinus infection. Both scenarios can affect the air pressure against your eardrum and cause that plugged-up feeling. 

Thankfully, finding ways to open your eustachian tube, which connects your middle ear to your nasal sinus cavities and the back of your throat, can help you pop your ears open again.   

If you're feeling ear pressure, a few different tricks can help you open your eustachian tubes and pop your ears safely. Here's everything proven to help pop your ears, from easy muscle movements to medications.

A woman with ear pain

Nenad Cavoski / Getty Images


Since your eustachian tubes connect to the back of your throat, swallowing can help open up the tubes. When the eustachian tube opens, air can enter the tube to help equalize pressure and "pop" your ears. Try sipping water or another beverage to prompt the motion.


A real or fake yawn can also help open your eustachian tubes to pop your ears. Opening your mouth and breathing in and out, will momentarily open these tubes so air can flow back into your middle ear. This will equalize the pressure and get rid of that clogged feeling.

Chewing Gum

There's a reason people say to chew gum on airplanes (and it's not just for fresh breath in close quarters). Chewing combines the swallowing and yawning actions that opens up your eustachian tubes and helps equalize pressure in your ears. If you're flying, try chewing gum during takeoff to help pop your ears. 

Valsalva Maneuver 

Breathing maneuvers can also help pop your ears. The Valsalva maneuver method helps create pressure behind your nose that can open your eustachian tubes. To try the maneuver:

  1. Breathe in
  2. Pinch your nose closed and close your mouth
  3. Try to breathe out of your nose

You should feel the pressure buildup and a popping sensation in your ears as your eustachian tubes open up. 

Toynbee Maneuver

This method can also help you create pressure in the back of your nose to open your eustachian tubes. To give the Toynbee maneuver a go:

  1. Pinch your nose closed
  2. Try to swallow

Just note that other research shows this method may not be as effective as the Valsalva maneuver.

Frenzel Maneuver

Scuba divers typically use the Frenzel maneuver to help relieve ear pressure. Like the Valsalva or Toynbee maneuvers, this method creates some pressure in your nasal cavities that helps open up the eustachian tubes. To try the Frenzel maneuver:

  1. Pinch your nose closed and close your mouth
  2. Try to make a "K" sound while keeping your mouth and nose closed


Suppose you have congestion that's putting pressure on your sinuses and ears. In that case, an over-the-counter (OTC) nasal decongestant like phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine can help unclog your ears.

Decongestants taken orally or as a nasal spray help reduce swelling in your nasal passage's blood vessels – resulting in more room for breathing and less head pressure from snot and inflammation. This is a temporary fix if you're recovering from an illness or have allergies that clog your ears.

Research has shown taking decongestants isn't as effective as other methods for chronically clogged ears.

Nasal Corticosteroids

If you're recovering from a cold or have allergies, OTC nasal corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation in your nasal passages and help air move to your eustachian tubes. This can help pop your ears. Just note that studies show this isn't helpful if your plugged-up ears are caused by chronic eustachian tube dysfunction (aka blocked eustachian tubes).

Is It OK to Pop Your Ears? 

Can't stand clogged ears for another minute on your flight or drive through the mountains? Popping your ears is typically considered safe as long as you're gentle. Ear-popping methods that require moving your mouth muscles and forceful breathing aren't known to cause harmful side effects when done with care.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like decongestants or nasal corticosteroids are also typically safe for adults to relieve ear pressure related to illness or allergies. Just make sure you use medicine as directed. 

Decongestants are unsafe for children under 4 years old, and some are not recommended if you’re pregnant. Decongestants also won't help solve the underlying issues that may cause chronically clogged ears. When in doubt, ask your healthcare provider what medication is safe for you.

Your ears may also pop on their own without intervention. If your ears are clogged after jet setting, they'll usually return to normal after you land. But if a fluid buildup from an underlying infection is blocking your ears, it could take weeks or months for your ears to unplug. Call your healthcare provider if your clogged ears don't pop after a week or your symptoms worsen. 

Why Do Our Ears Get Clogged? 

Clogged ears are usually caused by changes in pressure that affect your middle ear. This can happen naturally or be prompted by illness, damage, or anatomy issues that cause eustachian tube dysfunction (aka blocked eustachian tubes). 

Things that can change your middle ear pressure and clog your ears include: 

  • Changes in altitude: Air pressure changes from driving in the mountains, flying in an airplane, scuba diving, or taking an elevator can clog your ears. 
  • Allergies, sinus infection, and upper respiratory illnesses: Snot and inflammation can close off or block your eustachian tubes. 
  • Ear infection: An ear infection can cause ear pain and pressure to build up inside your ear from inflammation and fluid. 
  • Eustachian tube damage: Injuries or other trauma to the middle ear and related muscles can damage your eustachian tubes.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

If simple DIY ear-popping strategies don't help unclog your ears, or your ears don't pop on their own, talk to your healthcare provider. You should also reach out if you experience clogged ears and additional signs of an infection or blockage, like:

  • Ear pain
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Hearing loss
  • Drainage coming out of your ear
  • Fever
  • Facial weakness

Clogged ears can be a sign of an infection that needs prescription medication to clear any blockage in the ear. Additionally, you may need antibiotics to treat an ear or sinus infection. 

Your eardrums can also burst if an underlying infection isn't treated — or you experience rapid air pressure changes in a short amount of time. This can lead to a perforated eardrum (a tear in your eardrum). While rare, your healthcare provider may suggest surgery to unclog your ears to avoid a burst eardrum. This usually involves operating on the eardrum and draining fluid in the ear to help equalize pressure.

A Quick Review

It's typical for changes in air pressure to make your ears feel clogged and give you the urge to pop them. Usually, popping your ears with forceful breathing methods or simple swallow, chew, or yawn motions can help open up your eustachian tubes and pop your ears. These movements have equalized pressure around your eardrum so you can ditch that uncomfortable plugged-up sensation. 

If an illness is to blame for your clogged ears, taking an OTC decongestant or steroid may help temporality relieve your symptoms. But if your symptoms don't improve after a week, see a healthcare provider to ensure you're treating the underlying cause of your clogged ears. 

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