Ear 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.

Ear popping causes

The main cause of ear popping is a change in air pressure. This can happen for a variety of reasons, from planes frequently shifting their altitude to a train entering a tunnel – thereby compressing the air.

Colds, allergies, sinus infections, and even enlargement of the adenoids can also cause excessive ear popping through Eustachian tube dysfunction. Sufferers of Eustachian tube dysfunction are discouraged from flying altogether or, at the very least, should use over-the-counter medication to help clear these lest symptoms are exacerbated during flight.

How to pop ears safely

To pop your ears essentially means opening the Eustachian tubes, which is done by engaging the muscles around the tubes themselves.

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.

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