Ear pressure is controlled through the eustachian tubes, which run from the middle ear to the back of the throat. To equalize pressure, the eustachian tubes have to be opened. It is common for middle ear pressure to be unequal to ambient pressure during air travel or scuba diving or as a result of ear infections and the common cold. Passive methods like swallowing, yawning or chewing gum should be attempted first. The Valsalva maneuver is a forceful way to equalize pressure.
Things You'll Need
- Chewing gum
Drink water or swallow. This activates muscles that can relax the eustachian tube opening and equalize pressure. You will feel and hear small pops or crackles as air enters the middle ear. Repeat during increasing outside pressure.
Yawn. Force yourself to yawn, or at least go through the physical motions of yawning. This has the same effect as swallowing but can be more effective.
Chew gum. Chewing gum stretches muscles in the jaw and throat that can cause the eustachian tubes to open. This allows air into the middle ear and equalizes the pressure. Keep chewing gum as long as the pressure is changing.
Blow up a balloon. This has the same effect as the Valsalva maneuver described below. This is a simple and fun way to help children get through an otherwise possibly painful event.
The Valsalva Maneuver
Pinch your nostrils closed. This is the beginning of the Valsalva maneuver, which was created by an Italian doctor in the 1600s to forcibly equalize low pressure in the middle ear. It is also known as the Valsalva technique or method.
Inhale and then close your mouth.
Force air into your closed mouth by exhaling gently with your nose pinched shut. This should force air into the eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure in your middle ear.
Move your jaw. While exhaling with your nose and mouth shut, work your jaw back and forth to help open the eustachian tubes. You will feel and hear crackling and popping as air enters the middle ear.
Don't over-pressurize the middle ear. Start exhaling as gently as required to start equalizing. Over-pressurizing the middle ear can cause auditory damage, including burst eardrums.
Tips & Warnings
- Lower outside air pressure usually is not a problem--the eustachian tubes open naturally and let excess middle ear pressure out painlessly. Lower air pressure occurs when cabin pressure decreases in an ascending plane or when a scuba diver ascends from depth.
- Rapid outside pressure increases, like those that occur in a descending plane or at the beginning of a scuba dive descent, can force the eustachian tubes closed. It is important to act quickly to equalize ear pressure to prevent it from becoming more painful and harder to fix. Don't wait until it is painful to start equalizing. Start equalizing before the plane descends or when you first start your descent on the dive.
- Illnesses such as ear infections and colds can cause the membranes around the middle ear to become inflamed and lock the eustachian tubes shut. In severe cases, a medical professional will run tubes up the eustachian tubes to relieve pressure.
- Young children should be taught methods to equalize their ear pressure before they need them. It takes some experience to learn the gentlest and safest way to equalize air pressure in your ears.
- Try all passive methods before having a child try the Valsalva maneuver.
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