How does ear pressure work?

The Eustachian tube is a tiny passageway that connects your middle ear to your throat. It plays a vital role in equalizing the pressure in your middle ear. It does so by opening when you sneeze, swallow, or yawn. This mechanism prevents air pressure and fluid from building up inside your ear canal, behind your eardrum. 

When the Eustachian tube gets plugged, you may not hear clearly as sounds become muffled. Feeling pressure, pain, and fullness in your ear space is not uncommon either. Allergies, sinus infections, the common cold or the flu, can all cause the openings of your Eustachian tube to become partially blocked. Tissue inflammation and mucus secretions are a large part of the reason for the Eustachian tube dysfunction. 

Traveling by air and changes in altitude can also be a reason for your Eustachian tube not to function correctly.

How to get rid of the pressure in your ear canal?

To relieve your symptoms and to find the best remedy, first, you have to identify the cause.
Here are the common causes and our tips to resolve them.
Problems with your sinuses
As mentioned above, sinuses, ears, throat, and nose are closely connected. Problem impacting one area will often involve another. When your sinuses are congested, they can create middle ear pressure and a feeling of fullness. 

The most common causes of sinus related congestion are: 
  • allergies
  • viral infections such as the common cold and the flu
  • sinus infection
  • tobacco smoke and similar environmental irritants

There are several remedies you can use to relieve your symptoms of sinus congestion and the associated pressure:
  • Try a nasal decongestant.
  • Use a neti pot or a saline solution to irrigate your nasal cavities.
  • Use a humidifier to keep the air moist. Dry air can be irritating to your already inflamed nasal passages.
  • Use aromatherapy. Eucalyptus oil can help open up your airways. You can use it in steam inhalation, place a few drops in your bath water, or inhale it from the bottle.
  • Drink one glass of clean, quality water every two hours during the day. Drink plenty of herbal teas, vegetable juices, and broths. Increasing the amount of liquid will help loosen mucus.
Buildup of fluids
Fluid can build up in your ears when there is a problem with your drainage tubes. This dysfunction can cause fluid to be trapped behind your eardrum. Some of the symptoms you may experience when you are dealing with trapped fluid:
  • Popping, ringing
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Ear pressure
  • Hearing loss
  • Dizziness
  • Problem with your balance

Several causes can be at the root of this issue:
  • Colds or other infections causing congestion
  • Sinus infections
  • Allergies
  • Ear barotrauma

It is important to figure out what prevents the tubes from draining properly. If the problem remains unresolved, the accumulated fluid behind your eardrum can cause it to rupture. 

Here are our tips to help remove fluid from your ear canal:
  • Tug on your ear lobe while tilting your ear toward your shoulder.
  • Use a hot compress. Apply it for 30 seconds, then remove for a minute. Repeat this process until you get relief. Make sure you lay on your side.
  • Try an OTC (over-the-counter) ear drop. Make sure the drop contains alcohol for its drying effect.
Earwax buildup
Earwax buildup happens when the wax gets pushed deep within the ear canal or blocks the full width of the canal. A wax blockage causes several symptoms, such as hearing loss, dizziness, ear pain, ear fullness, pressure, and tinnitus (ringing in the ear). You might inadvertently cause your ears to become blocked when you use Q-tips to clean them. If you use hearing aids or earplugs, you are also at higher risk of wax buildup. 
Allergies can also cause ear congestion. Taking antihistamines and decongestants can relieve your allergy-related ear pressure and other symptoms. Antihistamines come in different forms. Tablets, capsules, liquids are some of the most popular formations. Some brands are only available by prescription. Check with your healthcare provider to help choose one for you.
Air travel
During takeoff and landing, the rapid change in air pressure can cause a pressure difference between the air pressure in the middle ear and the environment. This imbalance prevents your eardrum (tympanic membrane) from vibrating as it should. Ear pain, a feeling of fullness, and pressure can all signal a condition often referred to as airplane ears. 

Here are some tips to correct the condition: 
  • Try yawning, chewing gum and swallow during ascent and descent to activate the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes.
  • Try the Valsalva maneuver. Blow your nose gently with your mouth closed while pinching your nostrils. Do this as often as necessary.
  • Use filtered earplugs. These help to slowly equalize the pressure in your ears.
  • If you are congested, try a nasal spray 30 minutes to an hour before takeoff and landing.
Middle ear and outer ear infection
Middle ear infections (otitis media) produce a variety of symptoms, such as hearing loss, dizziness, and ear pain. Viruses that cause respiratory infections are often to blame.

Outer ear infections (otitis externa) are frequently called swimmer’s ear. They typically result from water remaining in your ear after exposure to moisture. Trapped water after swimming or bathing provides a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. 

Most of the time, your ear infection will resolve on its own. Ear drops and pain medications can, however, be beneficial in relieving your pain and other symptoms. If your symptoms worsen in spite of home treatment, it is a good idea to visit your doctor. 

As you can see, pressure in your ear can be associated with various conditions. It's essential to get to the bottom of it and find the cause for your discomfort. Home treatment is often all you need. If, however, your symptoms last longer than two weeks, and they get worse over time, you should seek medical attention. Make an appointment with your doctor if you develop a fever, drainage from your ears, severe pain, or complete hearing loss.

Do you have questions or concerns about your hearing loss?

Get your hearing tested for free at one of our Triton Hearing clinics near you.