Are your ears popping when swallowing? This may be an annoying problem, but it is usually not a serious one. Unless you have actually damaged your eardrums due to barotrauma, then ear popping may just be due to your body trying to relieve pressure in your ears. Pressure difference between the outside of ear drum and the Eustachian tube inside can occur while flying or climbing high altitudes or diving underwater. Yawning, swallowing or chewing helps open the small canal (Eustachian tube) which connects your middle ear in the inner side of the ear drum, and equalizes the pressure with the outer side and causes the sensation of ears popping when swallowing.
Ear Popping When Swallowing—Why?
1. Something Is Inside the Ear
Some earwax or a strand of hair may be lodged on top of your eardrum, so when it vibrates, you may hear funny noises or feel a popping sensation. Removal of impacted earwax or foreign object in the ear usually relieves the problem.
2. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Your Eustachian tube, which connects the throat to the middle ear, is lined with moist mucosa. This surface may become inflamed and any movement in this area can cause popping noises. Treatment of eustachian tube dysfunction may involve use of steroid nasal sprays for about six weeks.
3. Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder
A temporomandibular joint or jaw disorder can create noises that seem to come from the ears. Since the joints on either side are located in front of your ears, noises reverberate or “echo” and make it seem like your ears popping when swallowing.
4. Muscle Spasm
Spasm of the muscles found within the inner ear (called the stapedius or the tensor tympani) can cause random “clicking” sounds that are not rhythmic. This muscle disorder is similar to eye twitching (blepharospasm), which is common to some people. Surgery may be necessary.
5. Secretory Otitis Media
This condition is described as an accumulation of fluids in the middle ear. Also called serous otitis media, it can develop from an acute middle ear infection or acute otitis media, which can cause a blocked eustachian tube. You may experience a feeling of fullness in the ears and may hear your ears popping when swallowing. Sometimes, hearing loss may develop.
6. Unequal Pressure
Changes in atmospheric pressure occur whenever you ride an airplane or drive up a steep mountain. Your middle ear works to equalize air pressure inside the ears, where theeustachian tube is located. Swallowing or yawning causes the popping sensation as the air pressure is equalized inside ears.
How to Deal With Popping Ear
1. Wait It to Grow Out
Naturally, your Eustachian tubes naturally close and open by themselves. Frequent swallowing, however, can make them stay open longer and help eliminate the popping ear sensation. You can do this by chewing a piece of gum or sucking some hard candy when you feel pressure inside the ears.
2. Apply Oral and Intranasal Decongestants
Oral and intranasal decongestants work quickly by relieving the nasal congestion that helps unblock your Eustachian tube. However, decongestants work for short periods only; oral decongestants such as phenylephrine may have many side effects; and nasal decongestants can be habit forming. Therefore, do ask your doctor before using these medications.
Decongestants like ephedrine and phenylephrine and antihistamines can be used to relieve nasal congestion, but they do not improve secretory otitis media. Furthermore, antibiotics may not be helpful.
3. Try Nasal Steroid Spray
Nasal steroid spray helps improve Eustachian tube dysfunction and ears popping when swallowing. They reduce nasal swelling and helps unblock your Eustachian tube. One advantage of nasal steroid sprays over nasal decongestants is that they are not habit-forming. However, these sprays may take a few days to work and should be used regularly for several weeks to experience maximum benefit.
4. Take Oral/Intranasal Antihistamines
Oral/intranasal antihistamines help control symptoms of allergic rhinitis, which can reduce the ear popping due to eustachian tube dysfunction. Their benefits may take longer to attain compared to other medications. Look for second generation over-the-counter antihistamines like Claritin, which are better tolerated since they cause less sedation.
5. Practice Tricks
Pinch your nose shut and try blowing through your nose. By this way, you can just relieve middle ear pressure by trying to pop your ears, which causes air to be forced through the eustachian tube and into the middle ear. This process is simple and relatively harmless but fairly effective in opening the eustachian tube. You can even do this throughout the day. Other doctors suggest blowing up a balloon to accomplish the same goal.
6. Turn to Medical Procedure
If symptoms persist for more than three months, consult your doctor. He may perform a procedure called myringotomy, which involves creating an opening through the eardrum to drain fluid from your middle ear. A tympanostomy tube may be inserted into this opening to help remove fluid and allow air to enter your middle ear.
7. Things to Avoid
- Avoid damages on ear drum and inner ear by forcing your ears to pop.
- Avoid flying with allergies, colds, or sinus infection, which can cause pressure in your ears, making flying painful. If you cannot postpone your trip, consult your doctor before your flight.
- Ask your surgeon after ear surgery about how soon you may be able to travel by plane.
- During take-off and landing, try to swallow to adjust pressure changes in your ears.