How to relieve ear pressure?

Woman with earache

What is ear pressure?

Many people experience pressure in the ear at some point, which causes a feeling of fullness and discomfort, often accompanied by pain. This sensation can be quite bothersome and impact daily activities, communication, and overall well-being. The ear is a complex organ responsible for hearing and balance, comprising the outer, middle, and inner ear. The middle ear's important role is to equalize pressure between the environment and the inner ear. When this balance is disturbed, pressure can build up, leading to the uncomfortable sensation known as ear pressure.

How does the eustachian tube equalize pressure?

Doctor with stethoscope

The Eustachian tube, named after Bartolomeo Eustachi, an Italian anatomist, is a slender tube that connects the middle ear to the nasopharynx. Its main function is to balance the pressure between the middle ear and the surrounding environment. This critical mechanism ensures that the eardrum can move freely and accurately transmit sound waves to the inner ear.

During actions like swallowing, yawning, or chewing, the Eustachian tube briefly opens, allowing air to enter or exit the middle ear. This equalizes the pressure on both sides of the eardrum, preventing any discomfort or potential damage.

How changes in pressure can affect the ear?

Fluctuations in pressure can have a significant impact on the normal function of the Eustachian tube, leading to discomfort or even ear pain. Sudden changes in altitude, such as during air travel or scuba diving, can cause the external pressure to differ from that in the middle ear. If the Eustachian tube does not open or close properly, the pressure inside the middle ear may become imbalanced, resulting in a feeling of pressure or fullness.

During situations where the external pressure is higher than the internal pressure, like during takeoff in an airplane, the Eustachian tube may struggle to equalize the pressure swiftly. This can result in a sensation of blocked ears during flight. Conversely, when the pressure inside the ear is higher than outside, such as during descent, the Eustachian tube may not fully open, leading to a similar sensation of pressure or discomfort.

A woman with a yellow shirt perfoming a hearing test
Schedule a free hearing consultation

Take care of your hearing health now!

Visit the nearest store

Ear pressure symptoms

Sensation of fullness or blockage

Individuals experiencing ear pressure often describe a sensation of fullness or blockage in their ears. This feeling can be likened to having cotton balls stuffed inside the ear canal, creating a sense of pressure and discomfort. The fullness or blockage sensation may vary in intensity, ranging from mild to severe, and can occur in one or both ears.

Ear pain

Experiencing pressure in the ear can lead to considerable pain or discomfort. When the Eustachian tube fails to equalize the pressure between the middle ear and the external environment, it results in an accumulation of pressure that can irritate the delicate tissues and structures within the ear. This irritation can manifest as either a sharp or dull pain, which may be localized to the affected ear or extend to the surrounding areas.

Beyond the physical discomfort, ear pain can also disrupt daily activities, such as chewing, talking, or even sleeping. The intensity of the pain can vary based on the underlying cause of the ear pressure, ranging from a mild ache to severe and debilitating pain.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus, characterized by perceiving ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears, is closely linked with ear pressure. Many individuals experiencing ear pressure also report experiencing tinnitus as a simultaneous symptom. The exact mechanism connecting the two is not fully understood, but it is believed to be connected to changes in the fluid and pressure dynamics within the inner ear.

When the pressure in the middle ear becomes imbalanced, it can interfere with the normal functioning of the cochlea, a spiral-shaped structure responsible for converting sound vibrations into electrical signals. This disruption can lead to abnormal electrical activity in the auditory nerve, causing the perception of phantom sounds like ringing or buzzing, even in the absence of any external stimuli.

Dizziness or vertigo

One of the most distressing consequences of ear pressure is the occurrence of dizziness or vertigo. Dizziness refers to a general feeling of lightheadedness or unsteadiness, while vertigo is characterized by a sensation of spinning or whirling. Both of these symptoms can have a significant impact on an individual's quality of life, making simple tasks like walking or driving challenging and potentially hazardous.

The connection between ear pressure and dizziness/vertigo is rooted in the intricate relationship between the inner ear and the vestibular system, responsible for maintaining balance and spatial orientation. When ear pressure becomes disrupted, it can interfere with the normal functioning of the vestibular system, leading to a mismatch between the signals received from the inner ear and other sensory systems. This mismatch can result in dizziness or vertigo, as the brain struggles to interpret and reconcile the conflicting information.

Imbalance

Ear pressure can significantly impact both hearing and balance. The intricate network of structures within the ear, including the cochlea and the vestibular system, play vital roles in these sensory functions. Pressure imbalances can disrupt these delicate mechanisms responsible for transmitting sound vibrations and maintaining equilibrium.

A common consequence of ear pressure is temporary hearing loss. The pressure changes can affect the movement of the eardrum and the tiny bones in the middle ear, impairing their ability to effectively transmit sound waves. As a result, individuals may experience a decrease in their hearing acuity, particularly in the affected ear.

Additionally, the disruption of the vestibular system due to ear pressure can result in imbalance and a sense of unsteadiness. This can make it challenging to maintain proper posture, walk steadily, or engage in activities that require coordination and balance.

What causes negative pressure in ear?

1. Blockage or inflammation of the Eustachian tube

Conditions like allergies, sinus infections, or colds can lead to blockage or inflammation of the Eustachian tube. Allergies trigger an immune response that results in nasal congestion and inflammation of the Eustachian tube lining. Similarly, sinus infections or colds can cause an excess production of mucus, which obstructs the Eustachian tube and disrupts its normal functioning.

Studies have indicated that individuals with allergic rhinitis are more susceptible to Eustachian tube dysfunction due to increased production of inflammatory mediators in the nasal passages. Additionally, chronic sinusitis has been linked to persistent Eustachian tube dysfunction, resulting in prolonged feelings of pressure in the ear and discomfort.

2. Allergies or sinus

Allergies or sinus infections can contribute to ear pressure by causing inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages. This inflammation can extend to the Eustachian tube, affecting its ability to regulate pressure effectively, resulting in a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear.

Studies have shown that allergic rhinitis can lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction, leading to symptoms like ear pressure, hearing loss, and even middle ear effusion. Sinus infections, especially those caused by bacteria or viruses, can also block or inflame the Eustachian tube, causing increased ear pressure.

3. Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke

Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke can have harmful impacts on the Eustachian tube and may lead to the occurrence of ear pressure. The harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke can irritate the respiratory tract's lining, including the Eustachian tube, causing inflammation and impaired function.

Research has indicated that smokers are at a higher risk of experiencing Eustachian tube dysfunction and related symptoms like ear pressure and hearing loss. Additionally, individuals may also experience ear pressure after quitting smoking, as the body goes through a transition phase to recover from the damage caused by smoking. This can include the healing and restoration of the Eustachian tube's function, which might result in temporary ear pressure.

Moreover, exposure to secondhand smoke has been linked to an increased likelihood of Eustachian tube dysfunction in both children and adults.

4. Barotrauma while flying

During air travel, barotrauma due to the fluctuating cabin pressure can impact the pressure within the ears. As the airplane ascends or descends, the external pressure changes rapidly, while the Eustachian tube may not adjust quickly enough to equalize the pressure. This imbalance can lead to ear pressure, discomfort, and even pain.

To alleviate this issue, individuals can employ techniques like swallowing, yawning, or using specialized earplugs to aid in equalizing the pressure in the middle ear. Chewing gum or sucking on candy can also engage the muscles involved in opening the Eustachian tube, facilitating pressure equalization.

5. Barotrauma due to scuba diving or snorkeling

Participating in scuba diving or snorkeling exposes the ears to substantial pressure variations underwater. As divers go deeper, the water pressure rises, compressing the air in the middle ear. Failure to equalize this pressure can result in barotrauma and subsequent ear pressure.

To mitigate this issue, divers can employ equalizing techniques, such as the Valsalva maneuver (pinching the nose and blowing gently), to balance the pressure in their ears. It is crucial to receive proper training and follow safety guidelines to prevent complications related to barotrauma.

6. Altitude changes

Sudden shifts in altitude, such as driving through mountainous areas or ascending to high elevations, can impact ear pressure. As the altitude rises, the atmospheric pressure decreases, leading to a pressure disparity between the middle ear and the surroundings. Failing to equalize this pressure can cause discomfort and ear pressure.

To equalize pressure during altitude changes, individuals can employ techniques like swallowing, yawning, or using the Valsalva maneuver. These methods help open the Eustachian tube and balance the pressure between the middle ear and the atmosphere.

Ear pressure tests

Medical history and physical examination

When assessing ear pressure, medical professionals initiate the process by gathering a comprehensive medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination. The medical history helps healthcare providers understand the patient's symptoms, how long they have been experiencing them, and any possible underlying conditions that might be contributing to the ear pressure.

During the physical examination, healthcare providers carefully examine the external ear, searching for visible signs of inflammation, infection, or blockages. They may also gently feel the area around the ear to check for tenderness or swelling. Furthermore, an otoscope may be used to inspect the ear canal and eardrum for any abnormalities, such as redness, fluid buildup, or structural changes.

By combining the information obtained from the medical history and physical examination, healthcare providers can gain valuable insights into the potential causes of ear pressure and develop a targeted approach for further diagnostic tests.

Audiometry test

Audiometry tests are essential for evaluating hearing ability and detecting any hearing loss related to ear pressure. These tests are conducted by trained audiologists or healthcare professionals in a soundproof booth to ensure accuracy.

During the audiometry test, the patient wears headphones and is exposed to various tones at different frequencies and volumes. The patient is then asked to indicate whenever they hear a sound. This enables the audiologist to measure the patient's hearing thresholds and determine the softest sounds they can perceive at different frequencies.

By comparing the results to established norms, audiometry tests can identify any hearing loss or abnormalities in the patient's auditory system. This information helps healthcare providers understand the extent to which hearing loss may contribute to the ear pressure and guides them in developing an appropriate treatment plan.

Tympanometry

Tympanometry is a non-invasive examination that assesses middle ear function by measuring the eardrum's movement. It provides valuable insights into the pressure within the middle ear and the eardrum's mobility.

During the tympanometry test, a small probe is inserted into the ear canal. The probe emits a tone and alters the air pressure in the ear canal. By analyzing the reflected sound waves, the device can determine the eardrum's compliance and the pressure in the middle ear.

Abnormal tympanometry results, such as reduced eardrum mobility or irregular pressure readings, may indicate conditions like eustachian tube dysfunction, middle ear infections, or fluid buildup. This information assists healthcare providers in identifying the underlying cause of ear pressure and devising the most appropriate treatment approach.

Imaging tests

In certain situations, imaging procedures such as CT scans or MRIs may be necessary to identify any structural irregularities or underlying factors contributing to ear pressure. These tests offer detailed visualizations of the ear and surrounding structures, enabling healthcare providers to pinpoint potential causes of the ear pressure.

A CT scan utilizes X-rays to generate cross-sectional images of the ear and can help detect conditions like tumors, fractures, or abnormalities in the bony structures. On the other hand, an MRI employs powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of the soft tissues, providing valuable insights into conditions such as cholesteatoma, acoustic neuroma, or other abnormalities affecting the nerves or blood vessels.

While imaging tests are not always essential for diagnosing ear pressure, they can prove invaluable in cases where the symptoms are severe, recurring, or unresponsive to initial treatments.

These tests empower healthcare providers to make accurate diagnoses and devise appropriate treatment plans tailored to each individual patient's needs.

How to relieve ear pressure?

Swallowing or yawning

To effectively relieve ear pressure, one can employ the simple actions of swallowing or yawning. When we perform these actions, the muscles at the back of our throat contract, facilitating the regulation of pressure in the middle ear. This process allows the Eustachian tube to open, ensuring equalization of pressure between the middle ear and the external environment. This straightforward yet effective technique can be utilized anytime and anywhere to alleviate discomfort and promote ear health.

Nasal decongestants or saline sprays

Nasal decongestants or saline sprays are effective aids in relieving sinus congestion and decreasing ear pressure as part of ear pressure treatment. These products work by reducing inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages, facilitating the opening of the Eustachian tube. By clearing the nasal passages, these sprays enable improved airflow and equalization of pressure in the ears. To avoid potential side effects, it is essential to adhere to the provided instructions and not exceed the recommended dosage.

Chewing gum or sucking on candy

Chewing gum or sucking on candy can be helpful in balancing ear pressure during changes in altitude. As we ascend or descend in an airplane or travel through mountainous areas, the surrounding air pressure fluctuates rapidly, leading to discomfort and a sensation of fullness in the ears. Chewing gum or sucking on candy stimulates the swallowing muscles, facilitating the opening of the Eustachian tube and equalizing the pressure. Moreover, these actions promote saliva production, further contributing to the alleviation of ear pressure.

Medications

Various treatment options are available for relieving ear pressure.

Pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can temporarily alleviate ear pain by reducing inflammation and blocking pain signals.

Nasal corticosteroids are commonly used to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, which can help relieve ear pressure associated with allergies or sinusitis. However, they should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional due to potential side effects.

In cases of ear pressure caused by bacterial infections, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection and reduce inflammation in the middle ear. Completing the full course of antibiotics is crucial to ensure the infection is fully eradicated.

Using volume-limiting headphones or earbuds

Using volume-limiting headphones or earbuds can help prevent excessive sound exposure, particularly in personal listening devices. Built-in features cap the maximum volume output, reducing the risk of overexposure to loud sounds. Encouraging individuals, especially children and teenagers, to use volume-limiting headphones or earbuds can significantly contribute to preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

Scheduling regular hearing screenings

Regular hearing screenings play a vital role in early detection and prevention of high-frequency hearing loss. Scheduling routine hearing check-ups with a healthcare professional allows for the identification of any changes in hearing ability and enables timely intervention to preserve hearing health.
A woman from behind taking a hearing test
Check your hearing health

Schedule a free consultation with us.

Get in touch

Prevention of pressure in the ear

Equalize pressure during altitude change

The rapid change in altitude, such as during air travel or driving through mountains, is a common cause of ear pressure, resulting in discomfort or pain in the ears. However, there are effective techniques to equalize pressure and alleviate these symptoms.

  1. Swallowing or yawning is a simple and natural way to open the Eustachian tubes, connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat, and balance the pressure on both sides of the eardrum.
  2. The Valsalva maneuver can be used by gently pinching the nostrils shut and exhaling gently through the nose, helping to open the Eustachian tubes and equalize ear pressure. Care should be taken to avoid excessive force during this maneuver to prevent damage to the eardrums.

Avoiding exposure to smoke and allergens

Exposure to smoke and allergens can lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction, resulting in ear pressure.

  1. Avoiding smoking and minimizing exposure to smoke-filled environments is crucial to maintain healthy Eustachian tube function. Additionally, individuals with allergies should take measures to reduce exposure to common allergens, such as using air purifiers, regular cleaning, and avoiding known triggers, to prevent inflammation in the nasal passages and Eustachian tubes, and thus, minimize the risk of ear pressure.
  2. Timely treatment of underlying conditions such as allergies, sinus infections, or respiratory infections is crucial to prevent ear pressure. These conditions can cause inflammation and blockage of the Eustachian tubes, leading to discomfort and pressure in the ears. Therefore, it is essential to address these conditions promptly to avoid complications. Managing allergies effectively can reduce inflammation in the nasal passages and Eustachian tubes, minimizing the risk of ear pressure. Sinus infections can also lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction, so seeking medical advice for appropriate treatment, such as antibiotics or nasal decongestants, can prevent the spread of infection to the ears and alleviate ear pressure.

When to seek medical care

Audiologist

Persistent or severe symptoms of ear pressure should never be ignored, as they may indicate an underlying condition that requires immediate medical attention.

  1. Conditions such as infections, inflammation, or blockages in the ear canal or Eustachian tube can lead to complications if left untreated. Seeking medical attention promptly is crucial to prevent further damage and alleviate discomfort.
  2. Recurrent ear infections can have long-term implications on hearing and overall ear health, leading to hearing loss and other issues.
  3. Sudden hearing loss or vertigo accompanied by ear pressure may indicate a medical emergency, and immediate evaluation and treatment by a healthcare professional are essential.
  4. Symptoms of ear pressure accompanied by fever or severe pain may indicate a severe infection or condition that requires medical evaluation and appropriate treatment.

With you on your journey to better hearing.

It's time to finally treat your hearing loss. Sign up for a free consultation with a licensed hearing care professional today to determine if you have hearing loss. It’s the start of your journey towards better hearing.

EarPros benefits:

  • it's 100% risk free.
  • best partner with more than 1.000 stores

Please use a valid US zipcode.

Please use a valid zipcode.

Thank you for submitting your request

We will get in touch with you as soon as possible.
A young man expressing ear pain

Hearing health

Ear crackling: causes and symptoms

Read more
Doctor demonstrating a plastic ear to a patient

Hearing health

What are ear grommets

Read more
Person playing the electric bass

Hearing protection

Guide to ear plugs for musicians

Read more
Young woman expressing pain

Hearing health

Ear pain when swallwing

Read more