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Why Does My Ear Keep Popping?

Whether taking off in an airplane or going through a tunnel on a train, most people have experienced ear popping at one time or another. And despite not being a major cause for concern, ear popping is still usually irksome for sufferers – especially if it’s constant.

If you do have concerns, book your free hearing health check. 
It’s also important to remember that regular, frequent bouts of ear popping can signal a variety of underlying ear conditions. Therefore, you should take steps to ensure your ear popping is treated by a specialist as quickly as possible.

Boots Hearingcare provides all the information you need about why your ears pop, including what causes it and whether you should have a hearing test.

What is ear popping?

Ear popping is when the pressure in the ears needs to equalise so that your eardrum doesn’t expand or contract more than usual. In certain environments, this can happen quite quickly, creating the ‘popping’ sound we hear so very often.

Most of the time, our air pressure is the same, but there are situations when it is known to shift rapidly – for example, while traveling by plane. Fluctuations in altitude make ear popping more likely, and some people find the sensation very uncomfortable indeed.

When the ear pops despite there being no change in altitude, this is known as Eustachian tube dysfunction and should be checked over by doctors to ensure there are no other underlying conditions – although colds and allergies are usually to blame for this phenomenon.

Why do my ears pop?

Ear popping primarily occurs due to changes in air pressure. This phenomenon is commonly experienced during activities like flying, driving in mountains, or diving underwater. These situations lead to alterations in atmospheric pressure, affecting the air on either side of the eardrum.

Common Triggers:

Traveling: Fluctuations in altitude during flights or journeys through tunnels can lead to air pressure changes, causing ears to pop.

Health Conditions: Colds, allergies, sinus infections, and adenoid enlargement can contribute to excessive ear popping. In these cases, Eustachian tube dysfunction may be the underlying cause.

Should You Consider a Hearing Test?

While occasional ear popping is normal and often resolves on its own, persistent or recurrent symptoms may warrant attention. If you frequently experience ear popping or discomfort, it could be an indicator of underlying issues like Eustachian tube dysfunction. Considering a hearing test can help assess your overall ear health and identify any potential concerns. Seeking professional advice ensures a comprehensive understanding of your ear health and appropriate measures for relief.

How to unpop your ears safely

To pop your ears essentially means opening the Eustachian tubes, which is done by engaging the muscles around the tubes themselves. If your ears won't pop, here's what to do here are some common methods that help with ear popping include:

  • Swallow: Swallowing is a great way to engage the Eustachian tubes to clear any blockages and ensure the air pressure is regulated more smoothly.
  • Yawn: Whether natural or forced, a yawn will help open the Eustachian tube and regulate the air pressure between the inside and outside of the middle ear. Breathing deeply with your mouth wide open works just as well.
  • Chew: Like swallowing, chewing also engages the Eustachian tube and can help reduce any unpleasantness associated with ear popping. Hard sweets or gum can be used to expedite the process.
  • Toynbee: Simply pinch your nose with your mouth closed and swallow. A mouthful of water can help make this exercise feel more natural.
  • Frenzel: Pinch your nose and make a noise that sounds like a click with your tongue. Keep in mind that the resultant popping may seem uncomfortable at first, but it will be worth it for the relief you can expect.
While there’s no guarantee that these will provide surefire relief from ear popping, it’s always good to try each measure a few times before seeking medical advice for the matter.

Frequently asked questions

What does constant ear popping mean?

When the Eustachian tubes get blocked up with mucus, your ears will naturally feel like they need popping, given that this help regulates pressure between inside and outside the middle ear. This is a common side effect of a cold or allergy flare-up. However, if you fly a lot or are regularly exposed to changes in altitude, this could also be why your ears are constantly popping.

What do you do if your ear won’t stop popping?

A constant popping in your ears is most likely a sign of a blocked Eustachian tube. This will often clear up by itself, but if symptoms persist and cause you pain, it’s best to talk with your GP about possible medical treatment options.

Is popping your ear bad?

Ear popping by itself is fine, as you are simply balancing the air pressure between the outside and inside your middle ear. However, ear popping can be unpleasant for some and should be investigated if accompanied by other, more severe symptoms.

I can hear a bubble popping noise in my ear, is this normal?

Hearing a bubble popping noise in your ear can be unusual, and it may have various causes. It could be related to changes in pressure, fluid in the ear, or even issues with the Eustachian tube. While occasional sounds might not be concerning, persistent or bothersome noises should be evaluated by an audiologist. If you experience ongoing symptoms, it's advisable to seek professional advice to rule out any underlying issues.

What does it mean when ears pop?

The phenomenon of ears popping is typically a natural response to changes in air pressure. This common occurrence is often associated with activities such as flying, mountain driving, or underwater diving. The Eustachian tubes play a crucial role in equalizing air pressure on both sides of the eardrum during these situations. While occasional popping is normal, persistent discomfort or ongoing issues may indicate conditions like Eustachian tube dysfunction or earwax buildup. If you have concerns, seeking guidance from a Boots Hearingcare audiologist can provide personalised advice.

My ears won't pop, and I feel constant pressure; what should I do?

Experiencing persistent pressure in your ears without the ability to pop them can be discomforting. Several factors, such as Eustachian tube dysfunction, sinus congestion, or earwax buildup, could contribute to this sensation. It's advisable to avoid forceful attempts to pop your ears, as this can sometimes exacerbate the issue. Instead, consider strategies like swallowing, yawning, or chewing gum to encourage natural equalization. If the pressure persists or is accompanied by pain, it's crucial to consult with a Boots Hearingcare audiologist for a thorough examination and personalised guidance.

I can hear a clicking noise in my ear, is this normal?

Occasional clicks in the ear are normal, but persistent or bothersome clicks may signal issues like Eustachian tube dysfunction, muscle spasms, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems. Clicking can also result from ear pressure changes, jaw movements, or earwax. For personalized guidance, consult with a Boots audiologist or healthcare professional.