If your ears are clogged, it can be uncomfortable and adversely affect your hearing and balance. If this happens one of the first things to try to fix the situation is to pop your ears.

Popping your ears is perfectly normal and safe. The process is very easy and usually only requires moving some muscles in your mouth. Most people do this without even thinking about it, for instance, when they are driving up a long hill and the elevation change causes their ears to feel clogged.

Other causes can lead to a sensation of having clogged ears so if popping your ears doesn’t work or your symptoms get worse it might be necessary to consult with a physician.

There are over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication cures for clogged ears, which can also work. Always be sure to follow the directions on the package or listen to your doctor.

How does ear popping work?

If you have ever asked, “why do my ears pop when I swallow,” your eustachian tubes supply 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, which is that feeling of fullness that is sometimes described as a clogged ear.

Popping your ears involves opening both eustachian tubes to relieve the imbalance of pressure, ending or reducing your discomfort. The eustachian tubes typically open automatically when you swallow, chew, or yawn. When you do these motions, you’ll often hear a clicking, or popping, noise. Air entering the middle ear through the eustachian tubes in each ear causes the noise. If the tubes do not open easily, they may have obstructions including fluid, mucus, or inflammation.

How to pop ears

Having a clogged ear sensation can be uncomfortable, but it can usually be remedied without going to a doctor. Here are some common tips for how to make your ears pop. Knowing how to pop your ears without it hurting is going to be more difficult of a task as that can depend on if you have an ear infection or other, more serious, problem.


As you swallow, the muscles in your mouth will actually open your eustachian tubes. The eustachian tube connects your middle ear to the back of your nose and opening those tubes will equalize the pressure in your middle ear. The pressure in your middle ear is what causes the clogged ear sensation and you sometimes will hear a popping sound during the equalization process. Chewing on gum or eating food can also activate this response.


Another trick - this is very common to do if you fly on a plane - is yawning. Yawning will also open your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure in your middle ear. Even if you aren’t tired, just fake a yawn by opening your mouth wide and breathing in and out - this will commonly result in popping your ears. 

Valsalva maneuver

Another way to pop your ears, called the Valsalva maneuver,  is to pinch your nostrils closed with your fingers and gently try to blow air through them. Since your nostrils are closed this will generate pressure in the back of your nose and help open the eustachian tubes. If you have ever asked, “why do my ears pop when I blow my nose?” This is why!

Toynbee maneuver

If you still are having trouble popping your ears, try the Toynbee maneuver - simply pinch your nostrils shut with your fingers and swallow. 

Applying a warm washcloth

This is more important if you have an ear ache or a sinus infection. Holding a warm washcloth or covered heating pad against your ear can help reduce pain. If you have a sinus infection - another condition that can make your ears feel full - then you may try placing the warm cloth on your face.

Nasal decongestants

Your nasal passages are linked to your ears via the eustachian tubes so if you have clogged nasal passageways it might cause you to have clogged ears. Try using an over-the-counter nasal decongestant, it’s best to avoid taking it for more than 3 days in a row.

Nasal corticosteroids

If you have serious sinus problems then you can also cause all sorts of issues in your ears. Over-the-counter  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 both eustachian tubes, equalizing the pressure in your ears.

Ventilation tubes

In extreme cases, people with chronic ear infections are sometimes recommended to get ventilation tubes in their ears - sometimes this is called getting tubes in your ears. This is a simple surgical technique to ease pain and reduce pressure. For the procedure, your doctor will likely use local anesthesia to numb the area around your ears. Then, they’ll insert thin ventilation tubes, also known as pressure equalizing tubes or tympanostomy tubes, in one or both of your ears to drain fluid from behind the eardrum.

How to unpop ears

It’s also possible that instead of your eustachian tubes being blocked and unable to open, they might have trouble closing. This condition, called patulous eustachian tube dysfunction, often makes your voice and breathing sound unusually loud in your ears. It can also cause you to hear crackling or popping sounds.

A buildup of fluid in the middle ear is another condition that can cause the feeling of clogged ears and popping.

In both cases, treating or recovering from the condition may ease your symptoms.

Help! I've tried everything and my ear won't pop

If you have tried all of our above suggestions and your ear won’t pop,  then you should see a doctor. Clogged ears can be caused by many things, you should be evaluated by a doctor to accurately diagnose your problem.

When to seek medical attention

It’s  important to call a doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms including pus or discharge draining from your ear, hearing loss, fever, ear pain, or ringing in your ears. Your doctor can rule out any underlying conditions that may contribute to clogged ears and other symptoms. Many things can cause feelings of ear fullness including enlarged adenoids, also known as swollen tissue at the back of the throat, sinus or ear infection, allergies, earwax buildup, common cold, or temporomandibular joint disorders.

If your symptoms don’t go away seek medical attention because a clogged eardrum can sometimes bulge to the bursting point, leading to a perforated eardrum. This is most commonly caused by an ear infection, activities involving rapid pressure changes, such as air travel, and even head trauma. A perforated eardrum requires a doctor’s care and oversight, but typically heals by itself within a few weeks. Some extreme cases may require surgery.

Use an otoscope to check your ears at home

A modern approach to ear examination and wax removal is to use a digital otoscope. ScopeAround makes a number of devices that are safe to use because you can see inside your ear the entire time you are using the device. You can’t see what you are doing if you poke your ear with a cotton swab. Digital otoscopes have integrated LED lights to illuminate the ear canal and help the tip of the otoscope avoid your eardrum. Ear wax removal is easy to do because a soft silicone-tipped spoon attaches to the end of the otoscope and that combined with the camera gives you the perfect tool to scrape out pieces of earwax or other debris.


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