Effective Strategies for Relieving Ear Pressure

Woman with ear pain

When pressure differences outside and inside the eardrum develop, you can experience discomfort or pain. This condition can also cause dizziness, slight hearing loss, and, if severe, nosebleeds.

If the difference becomes large enough, eardrum damage can occur. But even before that risk arises, the feeling of a plugged ear is one people want to relieve.

This article explains why this discomfort occurs and how to relieve ear pressure safely.

Why Do My Ears Feel Full or Clogged?

The eustachian tubes connect the middle ear with the upper throat and back of the nose. They allow fluid in the middle ear to drain and play an essential role in pressure regulation. Yawning or swallowing opens the eustachian tubes and lets air flow into or out of the middle ear as needed.

Normal pressure equalization can be impaired in multiple ways. Problems typically resolve on their own in time, but knowing how to get rid of the pressure in the ear is still helpful.

Causes of Ear Pressure and How to Relieve It

Some of the most common causes of ear pressure and ways to relieve them are described below.

Sinus congestion

If you experience congestion due to a cold or sinus infection, it can partially or entirely block your eustachian tubes. The swelling of tissue around the eustachian tubes’ openings causes the blockage. When this happens, a pressure imbalance can develop.

If you’re wondering how to relieve ear pressure from a cold or sinus problem, you can chew gum or mimic chewing, take a warm shower and inhale the steam, or use a humidifier. You can also take over-the-counter (OTC) medications to reduce congestion. Be sure to talk with your doctor about them if you have high blood pressure or other medical issues.

In addition, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic or steroid pills if you don’t respond to OTC drugs.

Ear infection

Bacteria and viruses can cause ear infections (also called otitis media) that affect the middle ear, causing fluid buildup, fever, and pain. These infections, which are most common in children, generally aren’t severe. But they can affect the functioning of the eustachian tubes, causing the plugged-ear feeling. Ear infections can also irritate the eardrum, which increases the feeling of pressure in the ear.

Doctors prescribe antibiotics for bacterial ear infections (medications don’t typically affect viral infections), and you can take OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to address the pain and discomfort until the infection resolves.

Altitude change

Takeoffs and landings in a plane and driving in the mountains can cause a difference in pressure inside and outside the middle ear, called barotrauma. Also referred to as airplane ear, this condition is uncomfortable for anyone and can be painful for babies and young children.

You can minimize or prevent pressure issues caused by altitude changes in several ways. People commonly chew gum, suck on candy, or swallow repeatedly. You can also do the Valsalva maneuver, where you plug your nose and gently blow into it.

If barotrauma is chronic or severe, your doctor may recommend getting tubes in your ears.

Earwax buildup

Earwax is an important substance. It helps lubricate, clean, and protect the ear canals. But it can cause pressure and pain if it builds up against the eardrum. Symptoms of an earwax blockage include earache, impaired hearing, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), discharge, odor, and itching.

There are multiple ways to address buildups, but you should not use a cotton swab or similar item to remove it. That approach can push the wax deeper into the ear canal, worsening the problem.

Instead, you can put a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin in your ear, use OTC ear drops, use an at-home ear syringing kit, or have your doctor remove the blockage.

Foreign object in the ear

Anyone can have a foreign object get stuck in their ear, but the issue is often seen in young children. They may insert things in their ears for no other reason than because they can!

If you can’t remove the item by having the child tip their head to the side, you may need help from their pediatrician or an urgent care center. You should never try to “fish” an item out of a child’s ear with a cotton swab or tweezers. You can damage their eardrum and cause hearing loss. Healthcare professionals have specialized tools for gently pulling, washing or sucking items out of the ear canal.

Meniere’s disease

People with Meniere’s disease experience a buildup of fluid in the inner ear. Experts don’t know what causes this condition but believe it may be associated with allergies or autoimmune disorders. Recommended actions for ear congestion relief and prevention of Meniere’s disease include:

  • Having a low-salt diet
  • Taking water pills or diuretics
  • Taking medication for vertigo
  • Getting injections in the eardrum
  • Surgery


A cholesteatoma is a cyst or growth that forms behind the eardrum or near the bone behind the ear. It typically begins as an earwax buildup combined with skin debris. In addition to ear pressure, these cysts can cause earache, bad-smelling ear drainage, frequent ear infections, dizziness, hearing loss, and other symptoms. Treatment for a cholesteatoma is typically surgery to remove it.

Acoustic neuroma

Acoustic neuromas are slow-growing, benign (meaning not cancerous) tumors that develop in the inner ear. They form on nerves involved in hearing and balance and can cause ear pressure, dizziness, facial numbness, hearing loss, and other problems.

Doctors treat these tumors with surgery or radiation therapy.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder

The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw to the skull. TMJ injuries or damage can cause ear pressure, significant pain, jaw popping or clicking, trouble opening the mouth completely, headaches, ringing in the ears, and other symptoms.

To relieve ear pressure and other issues from TMJ disorder, you can wear a nightguard to prevent teeth clenching and grinding, eat soft foods, reduce life stress, apply ice packs to the jaw to reduce swelling and take anti-inflammatory or muscle-relaxing medications as prescribed.

Why Can't I Get Rid of Ear Pressure?

Experiencing ear pressure occasionally is normal. However, if it doesn’t resolve or you experience it frequently, you should talk with your primary care doctor.

They can diagnose the issue and talk with you about how to clear ear congestion. They can also refer you to an audiologist for further evaluation and treatment if necessary.

Learn More.