What to Do When Your Ears Won't Pop

Your body usually balances the air pressure on both sides of your eardrum. When the pressure changes between the middle ear and the outside, you will feel like your ears are plugged. If there's a lot of pressure change, it might even hurt.

How to Pop Your Ears
 Verywell / Emily Roberts 

In some cases, the air in your middle ear can have trouble adjusting to the pressure. This can happen when you are diving in water or flying in an airplane. It could even happen when you drive up or down a steep mountain.

Your middle ear usually adjusts to the pressure difference eventually. When it does, you will feel your ears pop. Sometimes you may need to help equalize the pressure by yawning or swallowing.

Certain medical conditions may impact your ability to pop your ears. When this happens, you may need to see a healthcare provider.

This article will discuss why your ears sometimes feel plugged, and how you can pop them. It will also discuss some of the conditions that may make it difficult to pop your ears.

What Causes the Feeling of Plugged Ears?

The eustachian tubes connect each middle ear to the upper part of your throat. They are also called auditory tubes. The popping sensation you feel happens when air moves from the upper part of your throat and nose through the eustachian tube into your middle ear.

Any medical condition that affects your eustachian tubes can prevent you from being able to easily pop your ears.

Effective Ways to Pop Your Ears

Try these tricks to help to equalize the pressure in your ears:

If you are traveling with an infant or toddler, try giving them a bottle, pacifier, or drink.

If the pressure difference continues and you're unable to pop your ears, you may experience ear pain. It is also possible for this to lead to barotrauma, which is a ruptured eardrum.

Why Your Ears Won't Pop

If you feel pressure, pain, or your ears feel plugged but they won't pop, you may have an underlying ear disorder. Disorders that affect the function of your auditory tube can cause this problem.

Fluid in the Ear

Fluid in the ear may prevent ears from popping. The thickened fluid blocks the auditory tube. This prevents fluid from draining into the back of the throat. Sometimes this is caused by an ear infection.

This condition has a few different names, including:

The adenoids are patches of tissue located high in your throat. When they become enlarged, they may block the auditory tubes, causing fluid to get trapped in the ear. This can also happen when the tissues in your nasal passages become swollen.

If the auditory tube is blocked by surrounding tissue, the tissue may have to be removed.

Frequent issues with fluid in the ear can be treated with a surgical procedure to insert artificial ear tubes. They let the ear drain and equalize pressure.

If you have ear tubes, your ears will not pop. This is because the tube will automatically equalize pressure.

Excessive Earwax

Too much earwax can also impair the function of your auditory tube. There are a few ways that your healthcare provider can remove the earwax. It can usually be done in their office.

Wax can be removed with special ear drops that dissolve the wax. It can also be flushed out with water. The healthcare provider can also use a special instrument called a cerumen spoon to remove the wax.

Do not use ear candles or cotton swabs to remove wax. This may push the wax down further.

A heavy earwax blockage should be removed by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT).

Congestion

Too much mucus can make it hard to maintain pressure in the middle ear space. If you have allergies, try taking a decongestant before boarding an airplane or going on a road trip to a higher elevation.

Cold viruses also cause congestion, but if this symptom lasts longer than about three weeks, see a healthcare provider. Your congestion may be caused by allergies or another condition.

Patulous Eustachian Tube

Patulous eustachian tube is a disorder in which the tube is always open. It is an uncommon condition. Symptoms include:

  • The sensation of plugged ears
  • Tinnitus, a ringing sound in the ear
  • Autophony, when your voice seems abnormally loud to you
  • Hearing your own breathing

Other Causes

Some other conditions that can cause problems with your auditory tube include:

  • Sinusitis, an infection of your nasal passages
  • Nasal polyps, which are growths in your nasal passages
  • Enlarged turbinates. Turbinates are structures in your nasal passages that help warm and humidify the air you breathe in.
  • Tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils

Usually, an ENT practitioner will be able to help treat or manage any of the above problems. Your ENT may prescribe medications. In some cases, ear surgery may be required.

These conditions may make it uncomfortable or painful to travel. See a healthcare provider ahead of time so you can resolve these problems before you go.

Recap

There are a number of possible reasons why you might not be able to pop your ears. Fluid in the ear, excess earwax, and congestion are some of the most common.

Symptoms of a Ruptured Eardrum

Some conditions may result in a hole or tear in your eardrum. This is called a ruptured eardrum. A ruptured eardrum can cause hearing loss, so it is important to see a healthcare provider is you have these symptoms:

If you have any of these symptoms, see a healthcare provider at once.

Summary

The sensation of having clogged ears happens when your body can't equalize the pressure in your ears because your eustachian (auditory) tubes are blocked. You can try to pop your ears by yawning, swallowing, or chewing. Taking decongestants may also help.

There are a number of conditions that can cause the sensation of plugged ears, including fluid in the ear, excess earwax, and congestion. Some problems like sinusitis and tonsillitis may require treatment by a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Ear problems that affect the ability to equalize pressure can be bothersome or even painful. They may get in the way of your enjoyment of activities like traveling by plane and scuba diving. Sometimes you won't know you have a problem until you are already participating in the activity.

If your ears do not pop and you feel like they are clogged or you are experiencing significant ear pain, see a healthcare provider. You should also see a healthcare provider at once if you have symptoms of a ruptured eardrum.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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