How To Pop Ears Safely

February 12, 2024

Typically, the air pressure inside the inner ear and the air pressure outside of the body are the same. When the air pressure outside the body and inside the ear is not the same, it can cause a feeling of fullness, pain, or clogging in the ears. Most individuals experience this when they fly on a plane or travel to higher altitudes. It may also occur when diving underwater.

Children are at particular risk of experiencing painful ears during pressure changes since they have shorter Eustachian tubes than adults. Ear popping equalizes the pressure inside and outside the ear and relieves pain and other symptoms associated with pressure changes. Care must be taken when popping the ears; doing so incorrectly could lead to complications such as hearing loss and a ruptured eardrum.

Forcing A Yawn

Forcing a yawn is typically one of the first methods individuals attempt when they experience painful ear pressure changes. To force a yawn, individuals should open their mouths as wide as is comfortable for them. While their mouth is open, they should then breathe in and out deeply. Doctors recommend doing this every two minutes or so until the ears pop. To help ears pop more easily, patients may combine this technique with licking their lips or chewing gum. Patients can also use this technique to prevent a painful buildup of pressure in the ears. To use it in this manner, patients can force a yawn every two minutes or so at the start of their trip to higher altitudes, and this will help equalize the pressure.

Sipping On Water

Sipping on water requires swallowing, and the swallowing process automatically opens the Eustachian tubes. This will naturally allow the ears to pop, and it is a gentle method even children can use. While sipping on water is best, juice, soda, or any available beverage will work. Hot, cold, and room temperature beverages are all appropriate. If you use sipping to relieve a buildup of ear pressure, take small sips of a beverage every few seconds. This requires more swallowing and is typically more effective than taking larger gulps less often.

To help prevent ear pain while flying, passengers may want to bring their own water bottles with them so they always have access to liquid. Ideally, passengers should drink water shortly after takeoff and try to take a sip of water every ten minutes or so. This may help prevent and relieve ear pain. Plane passengers and other travelers at high altitudes may also wish to wear special earplugs for fliers that prevent pressure changes in the ears and provide additional pain relief. These are available online and in many airport shops and should be inserted prior to take off and worn throughout the flight.

Sucking On Candy

Sucking on candy helps stimulate saliva, which can encourage the frequent swallowing necessary for successful ear popping. When using this method, caution should be exercised in the selection of candy. Some patients use lozenges or hard candies that can present a choking risk, particularly for the elderly and those with swallowing difficulties or other underlying health concerns. Patients should choose a hard candy with a hole in it, as this would allow at least some breathing if the candy accidentally became stuck in the throat.

Lollipops may also be a safe alternative for many patients. Chewy or gummy candies such as gummy bears, fruit leather, and chewing gum are also beneficial. While this technique can be safely used by healthy adults, it is not recommended for children. In particular, it should not be used by children under three years old, as they have a very high risk of choking on small candies. Sucking on candy works best when combined with other methods such as forcing a yawn and wearing earplugs.

Toynbee Maneuver

The Toynbee maneuver can provide successful ear clearing for many patients. This method is fairly forceful, and while it can result in immediate ear popping, it may cause discomfort, and patients may wish to try other methods first and save this maneuver. It should be used with caution in children. To employ this maneuver, patients should start by pinching their nose closed. With the nose pinched shut, patients should then swallow.

The swallowing in this method immediately opens the Eustachian tubes, and the act of moving the tongue while the nose is closed helps compress the air passing through to the middle ear. Patients may wish to combine this method with a nasal decongestant spray or applying a warm washcloth to the outside of the ear. Patients who experience any pain or discharge after trying this maneuver should see their doctor for an ear examination.

Valsalva Maneuver

The Valsalva maneuver is one of the most popular methods of ear popping, and it provides nearly immediate relief for many patients. Like the Toynbee maneuver, it is a forceful action that may cause initial discomfort while it is being performed, and it may not be the best method of ear popping for children. To perform the Valsalva maneuver, patients should first pinch their nose closed.

Next, while holding the nose closed, patients should try to blow air through their nostrils as they would when blowing their nose when dealing with the common cold. This action creates pressure at the back of the nasal passages that can help open the Eustachian tubes. While blowing air through the nostrils with this maneuver, patients should do so slowly and gently to make the procedure more comfortable and less likely to result in pain. While attempting to breathe, patients shouldn't be too forceful, as this maneuver can damage the eardrums if they are not careful.


An individual who experiences discomfort or pain due to the air pressure between the middle and outer ears being unequal may be able to pop their ears by swallowing. The air pressure in the middle ear is regulated by a canal that connects the nasopharynx to the middle ear (the eustachian tube). This tube clears out mucus and moves it from the middle ear to the nasopharynx through the mechanism of proper aeration. This mechanism helps prevent an infection from spreading to an individual's middle ear tissues. A healthy individual's eustachian tube remains closed for the majority of the time and opens when they chew, swallow, or yawn.

The opening of the eustachian tubes allows for the flow of air from the nasopharynx to the middle ear, which allows the air pressure to equalize on both sides of the eardrum. An individual benefits from the eustachian tubes being closed most of the time because it helps to avoid loud sounds and unwanted changes in pressure. Because the muscles used when an individual swallows induce the opening of the eustachian tubes, repeatedly swallowing may help pop the ears.

Frenzel Maneuver

The Frenzel maneuver is a technique for equalizing the pressure in the middle ear. This ear-popping technique is most practiced by free divers, scuba divers, and pilots. The Frenzel maneuver is performed by blocking the nasal cavity, usually by a nose clip or pinching of the nostrils. Then the individual fills their mouth up with air, closes it, and maneuvers their tongue in the same way they would if they make a letter k sound. Some find it easier to make clicking sounds with their tongue to push the air into their eustachian tubes.

The Frenzel maneuver is deemed to be somewhat safer than other ear-popping techniques because it carries the lowest risk of placing too much pressure on the inner or middle ear. This technique of equalizing the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum also does not interrupt venous return to the heart. Although it may be one of the safest ear-popping techniques, it is one of the more challenging ones to learn how to perform and may require some practice before it is effective.

Chewing Gum

An individual can induce the popping of their ears by chewing gum when they have barotitus media or barotrauma. An individual's middle ear typically can adjust to changing air pressures outside of the ear. However, it takes several minutes for the middle ear to adjust when this pressure change occurs suddenly, like during the takeoff of an airplane. Some individuals' ears will pop without any intervention, while others may have a harder time with equalizing the pressure in their middle ear.

One of the best-known methods of inducing ear popping is chewing gum. While it sounds like the actual chewing motion would help the ears pop, this is actually not true. When an individual chews gum, the flavorings in the gum cause their saliva glands to produce more saliva. The oral cavity has a mechanism in place to rid the mouth of excessive saliva or other fluids by automatically inducing swallowing. An individual who is chewing gum will swallow much more frequently than someone who is not. Swallowing forces the eustachian tubes to open, which is why chewing gum is effective at popping the ears.

Certain Medications

When other methods are not effective, an individual may need to take certain medications when they know they will be experiencing altitude changes or other situations where the air pressure will be variable. Some medical conditions can make it especially difficult for an individual to pop their ears in such situations, like the common cold, sinusitis, allergies, and other upper respiratory inflammation or infections. These conditions cause the areas around the eustachian tubes to become inflamed and swollen, which makes it difficult for them to open when it is needed.

Treating the upper respiratory problem before boarding a plane or driving through the mountains can help an individual avoid problems with popping their ears properly when the pressure becomes unequal. Many individuals find it helpful to take a decongestant about an hour before they travel to reduce the inflammation and phlegm that can cause the eustachian tubes to resist opening. If the inflammation in the respiratory tract is attributed to allergies, an individual can take an antihistamine to help reduce the swelling and inflammation before their travels.

Medical Devices

An individual who does not have much success with the use of other methods to pop their ears may choose to enlist the help of one of many medical devices designed to help equalize the pressure in the middle ear. Special earplugs have been designed that help keep the air pressure on the outside of the eardrum the same as on the inside by trapping air in the ear canal. The earplugs are placed in the ear several minutes before takeoff or boarding an airplane and then removed several minutes after landing. The specialized earplugs make the process of air pressure changes outside of the eardrums more gradual, so discomfort and pain are not felt from the popping of the ears.

Another useful medical device that can help pop the ears properly is one that mimics the Valsalva maneuver. This device usually consists of a nozzle that enters one nostril and a balloon individuals blow air into when they plug their other nostril. Another electronic device is also available to help pop the ears by a physician's prescription. This device pumps air through an individual's nose into their eustachian tubes.

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