How To Make Your Ears Pop

How To Make Your Ears Pop
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Many readers are interested in the following topic: How To Pop and Unclog Your Ears. We are happy to note, that our authors have already studied the modern research about the topic you are interested in. Based on the information provided in the latest medical digests, modern research and surveys, we provide extensive answer. Keep reading to find out more.

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.

How to Pop Your Ears and Relieve Pressure

Carley Millhone is a writer and editor based in the Midwest who covers health, women’s wellness, and travel. Her work has appeared in publications like SELF, Greatist, and PureWow.

Published on February 9, 2023
Medically reviewed by

Benjamin F. Asher, MD, FACS, is a board-certified otolaryngologist operating his own private practice in New York City.

In This Article
In This Article

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


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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How To Make Your Ears Pop

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How To Pop and Unclog Your Ears

Man sitting in airplane seat experiencing ear pressure pain.

It’s one of the worst parts of flying: You finally hit that cruising altitude, and suddenly, you have ear congestion — that feeling that your ears are somehow plugged up.

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Plugged-up ears are so common when traveling by airplane that there’s actually a special name for it: airplane ear. However, flying isn’t the only reason why your hearing might become muffled and you suddenly need to pop an ear.

Family medicine specialist Matthew Goldman, MD, explains how to unclog your ears, what causes them to feel plugged up in the first place and how to safely pop your ears if you feel the need to relieve the pressure.

How to pop your ears safely

Having plugged-up ears is an annoying problem at best and a frustrating, painful one at worst. Sometimes, a clogged ear will go away by itself, but Dr. Goldman shares a few ways you can try to relieve the pressure and get your ears to pop.

Open your Eustachian tubes

Between the area behind your eardrum and the back of your nose and throat is a tube called the Eustachian tube. You’ve got two of them — one behind each ear. “This tube helps to maintain balanced air pressure between the area behind the eardrum and the area outside of the eardrum,” Dr. Goldman explains.

If you’ve ever had clogged ears, there are two methods you can try to unclog them. The pressure these two maneuvers create can help open your Eustachian tubes. Research shows that these two methods have about the same success rate at unplugging, or “popping,” your ears.

The Valsalva maneuver

Close your mouth and pinch your nostrils closed. Then, breathe out forcefully — but don’t let any air escape through your mouth or nose.

The Toynbee maneuver

Close your mouth, pinch your nostrils closed and swallow.

Swallow or yawn to equalize the pressure

Your Eustachian tubes are typically closed, opening when you perform activities like swallowing and yawning. So intentionally doing these things may help unclog your ears, especially if there’s no underlying cause like allergies or an infection.

“There are different ways to equalize the pressure that creates the plugged-up sensation,” Dr. Goldman says, including chewing gum, swallowing and yawning.

Use a saline spray

Using a nasal spray can relieve sinus blockage and inflammation, which can ultimately help unplug your ears. Just be sure you’re using the nasal spray correctly by aiming it toward the back of your nose rather than toward your septum (the middle of your nose).

Address the underlying condition

Have you ever known someone who gets recurrent ear infections and has to have ear tubes put in? This is one of a few ways doctors can address chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction, which is common in children.

Why your ears get plugged up to begin with

Dr. Goldman says plugged ears can be uncomfortable and occur for a few reasons, including:

  • Changes in air pressure. “Sudden pressure changes like driving upward into the mountains and scuba diving can also create this sensation,” Dr. Goldman says. As the pressure changes around you, the air pressure inside of your inner ears tries to adjust along with it.
  • Ear infections. When infected fluid gets trapped behind your eardrum, it can swell and bulge, leading to ear infections, which cause pain and that plugged-up feeling.
  • Swimmer’s ear. An infection in the lining of your ear canal, known as swimmer’s ear, can also cause blocked ears. This is an infection of your external ear, rather than your middle ear.
  • Sinus infections. “Sinus infections can change the pressure behind your eardrum,” Dr. Goldman notes.
  • Allergies. Achoo! Allergies come with a lot of unpleasant symptoms, and you can add plugged-up ears to the list.
  • Eustachian tube problems. “Sometimes, when there is an imbalance between the air pressure within the Eustachian tube and the pressure outside of the eardrum, we may feel a plugged-up sensation,” explains Dr. Goldman. In some cases, you may have a condition that directly affects your Eustachian tubes. “Rarely, growths may affect the Eustachian tubes, which can create issues,” Dr. Goldman says, “and being born with abnormally shaped Eustachian tubes can also be a cause.”

When to call your doctor about plugged ears

“Most of the time, these are all safe and effective methods,” Dr. Goldman says, “but depending on the cause, these methods could be unsafe and could even cause damage.”

If you’re traveling in high altitude changes or know you’re in the midst of an allergic flare-up, your clogged ears likely aren’t a problem and should resolve pretty quickly. But clogged ears that persist or are accompanied by other symptoms can indicate a more serious issue. Pay attention to issues like:

  • Pain.
  • Discharge.
  • Dizziness.
  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing.

In these cases, it’s time to see your doctor, who’ll be able to determine the root cause of your issues and figure out a treatment plan.

If you’re experiencing something like swimmer’s ear or allergies, you can best treat your plugged-up ears by treating the medical condition that’s causing them.

“Depending on the cause, antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays and occasionally surgery may be needed to help manage and/or treat the root of the problem and/or mask the symptoms until the cause has resolved,” Dr. Goldman says.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What to Do When Your Ears Won’t Pop

Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.

Updated on October 08, 2022

John Carew, MD, is board-certified in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. He is an adjunct assistant professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center and NYU Medical Center.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

When your ears are blocked, there are several ways to help them pop. Sometimes swallowing, yawning, or chewing gum can help. But how do these techniques help clear your ears?

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

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 discusses why your ears may feel plugged and the best ways to pop your ears fast. It also explains some of the conditions that can make it hard to pop your ears and relieve the pressure.

What Causes the Feeling of Plugged Ears?

If your ears won’t pop, you’ll be stuck with a full or plugged feeling in your ears. Pressure in your ears that won’t go away can be caused by several things.

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 pop your ears easily.

Effective Ways to Pop Your Ears

If you’ve tried everything and your ears won’t pop, take a look at this list. There might be a few ideas for unclogging your ears that you hadn’t thought of, such as:

  • Swallowing
  • Yawning
  • Chewing gum
  • Sucking on hard candy
  • Using decongestants like Afrin (oxymetazoline) or Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) before traveling
  • Applying a warm compress to your ear

If those steps don’t make your ears pop, there are also some other strategies you can try:

  • Valsalva maneuver: Inhale. Pinch your nose closed. Keeping lips closed, try to blow out forcefully, as if you are blowing up a balloon. Bear down as if you are having a bowel movement. This increases pressure in the sinuses and middle ears, helping them pop.
  • Toynbee maneuver: Keep your mouth closed, pinch your nose shut, and swallow. This increases pressure in the nose, throat, and inner ears, helping ears pop.

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

If the pressure difference continues and can’t 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 ear disorder. Disorders that affect the function of your auditory tube can cause this problem.

Fluid in the Ear

If your ears won’t pop you might have fluid in your ears. Thickened fluid blocks the auditory tube and prevents the 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:

  • Serous otitis media
  • Glue ear
  • Otitis media with effusion

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

Ears that won’t pop can also be caused by having a buildup of 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).


If your ears won’t pop and you’ve had a cold recently, you might have mucus in your ears. 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

Sometimes, having ears that won’t pop no matter what you try is a sign that there’s something wrong with your ear tubes.

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

If you have patulous eustachian tube, keeping hydrated is crucial. Be sure to drink enough fluids throughout the day and consider using a humidifier at night.

Treatment for patulous eustachian tube includes non-invasive methods and surgery. Nasal sprays including saline, antihistamines, decongestants, or corticosteroids may be recommended. However, medicated nasal sprays can sometimes make it worse.

Ear tubes are effective about half the time. Other treatments include cauterizing the eustachian tube, injection of cartilage-fillers, and manipulating the muscles around the eustachian tube.

Other Causes

When you’ve tried everything to get your ears to pop and have not been successful, you might need to see a provider to find out if you have a problem with your ears. 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.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If at-home treatments to get your ears to pop don’t work in a day or two, or if your symptoms worsen, you may have a sinus or ear infection. These symptoms warrant a call to your healthcare provider or a trip to a walk-in clinic:

  • Severe headache or facial pain
  • Pain and congestion that worsens after improving
  • Fever that lasts longer than 72 hours

When to Seek Emergency Treatment

A ruptured eardrum—a hole or tear in your eardrum—is serious and can cause hearing loss. See a healthcare provider right away if you have these symptoms of a ruptured eardrum:

  • Blood or fluid draining from the ear
  • An intense earache followed by a pop and sudden relief of pain
  • Difficulty hearing


If your ears won’t pop, it can lead to a lot of discomfort. 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. Some of the best ways to pop your ears are yawning, swallowing, or chewing. Taking decongestants may also help make your ears pop fast.

There are a number of conditions that can cause a blocked feeling in your 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

If you’ve tried everything and your ears won’t pop, you might be dealing with an underlying condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare provider.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prevent airplane ear?

  • Take a decongestant 30 minutes to an hour before traveling
  • Use ear plugs
  • Chew gum or repeatedly yawn as the plane takes off and lands