How/Why a Ear Pops Open!

by , last modified on 4/13/21.

When flying or going up/down a mountain, the ear can feel clogged. When it does, people automatically try to "pop" the ear open. There are several ways a person can get the ear to do this. As most people can tell you, clogged ears can "pop" open when:

How/why does this happen? First a little anatomy... In the very back of the nose, there is an opening that goes into a tunnel called the eustachian tube that leads up into the ear. Check out the picture below (modified from Wikipedia).


When the eustachian tube gets inflamed, it can lead to a condition called eustachian tube dysfunction which can lead to symptoms of a clogged sensation in the ear that can not be relieved easily. When that happens, it may be difficut to get the ear to pop open no matter what a person tries.

However, in a normally functioning ear, the eustachian tube can be opened easily with swallow, yawn, or nose-blowing. Watch the video at the end of this article showing how this all works.

With a swallow or yawn, the eustachian tube opens up when muscles of the throat PULL apart the walls of the tube.

yawn steps

When nose-blowing (pinching the nose together while trying to blow air out the nose), air pressure builds up in the back of the nose and "pushes" up into the eustachian tube where the built-up air pressure blows the walls of the eustachian tube apart (picture below) causing the ear to pop.

popping steps

Regardless of the method, the end result is the same. Pressure in the ear releases and the clogged or pressure sensation in the ear goes away! For young children (or even some adults) who just have trouble popping their ears, there are some devices that one can buy over-the-counter that try to pop the ears for you. A few such devices (like the Otovent) are shown here.

Watch a video showing a 3 years old using an Otovent device or the EarPopper here. Whereas the Otovent essentially mimics only the valsalva maneuver (trying to blow air out the nose while pinched shut), the Earpopper simultaneously mimics the valsalva AND physically increases the eustachian tube diameter with swallow (muscles pull the eustachian tube open).

Watch video of an eustachian tube briefly opening with an ear pop (video courtesy of Dr. Vijay Anand).

Read more about when such maneuvers don't work.


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