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Does it hurt to pop your eardrum?

Popping your ears is something most people have experienced at some point, often while flying or driving through mountains. It occurs when the air pressure changes and your Eustachian tube, which connects your middle ear to the back of your throat, fails to equalize quickly enough. This results in a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ears. To relieve this sensation, you swallow, yawn, or blow gently through your nose while holding it closed and your mouth shut. This forces a small amount of air through the Eustachian tube into your middle ear, equalizing the pressure. But what happens if you pop your ears too forcefully? Can you actually rupture or puncture your eardrum? And does it hurt if you do?

What is the eardrum?

The eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane, is a thin connective tissue membrane located in the middle ear. Its function is to transmit sound vibrations from the outer ear to the small bones of the middle ear (the malleus, incus, and stapes). These vibrations are then converted into nerve signals that travel to the brain.

The eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle ear. On its outer surface, it is continuous with the skin of the ear canal. On its inner surface, it is connected to the malleus bone. Rupturing or puncturing the eardrum causes a hole or tear in this membrane, which can allow fluid from the middle ear space to leak into the ear canal.

What happens when you pop your ears?

Popping your ears makes the Eustachian tube momentarily open. This tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat and nasal cavity. When you pop your ears, a few things happen:

– Air pressure is equalized between the middle ear and outside world. This eliminates the feeling of pressure, fullness, or “clogged ears.”

– A small air bubble may travel up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear. This is the soft “pop” people hear.

– The eardrum may vibrate slightly from the force of the air bubble.

Under normal circumstances, this process causes no harm or pain. The eardrum is designed to withstand periodic pressure changes. However, if done forcefully, popping ears can potentially damage the eardrum.

Can you rupture your eardrum from popping your ears?

Yes, it is possible to rupture your eardrum from popping your ears too forcefully. The eardrum is a thin, delicate membrane and can be damaged by excessive pressure changes.

Some ways you could potentially rupture an eardrum from popping include:

– Blowing forcefully through your nose while holding it closed. This increases pressure dramatically in the nasal cavity.

– Using a balloon to blow air into the Eustachian tube. This also risks excessive pressure.

– Slapping the side of your head with an open palm while popping. The compression wave can tear the eardrum.

– Having a preexisting infection or weakness that makes the eardrum more fragile.

– Flying with a severe upper respiratory infection, cold, or allergies that cause eustachian tube swelling. The pressure changes during landing and takeoff can damage an already inflamed eardrum.

– Having a rapid descent while scuba diving or free diving. The pressure change happens too quickly for the Eustachian tube to equalize it.

So while normal popping carries little risk, anything that generates sudden, forceful pressure changes in the nasal cavity or middle ear does carry a risk of rupturing the eardrum. Children may be at greater risk as their eardrums are thinner and more fragile.

What are the symptoms of a ruptured eardrum?

Symptoms of a ruptured or perforated eardrum may include:

– Sudden sharp pain in the ear during or after pressure changes

– Hearing loss or distortion in the affected ear

– Ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds (tinnitus)

– Vertigo or dizziness

– An abnormal sense of fullness or pressure in the ear

– Bleeding or fluid drainage from the external ear canal

– Nausea or vomiting due to vertigo

– Feeling that your own voice echoes or sounds “off”

Not all symptoms may be present. Many resolve over time as the tear heals. However, you should always see a doctor to evaluate a suspected ruptured eardrum. Hearing loss that persists for more than 2-3 weeks may indicate a more serious injury.

Does rupturing an eardrum hurt?

Rupturing your eardrum can be quite painful, especially when it occurs. The tearing of the membrane triggers nerves that are associated with sudden, sharp pain. However, this intense pain is often brief, lasting only seconds to minutes.

After the initial rupture, most of the pain fades. A dull ache may persist for a few hours or days.

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or NSAIDs can help reduce eardrum rupture pain. Using a warm (not hot) compress against the affected ear may also ease discomfort.

Avoid getting water in the injured ear, since this could cause infection and increase pain. See a doctor as soon as possible for evaluation and treatment.

Can a ruptured eardrum heal on its own?

Many minor perforations of the eardrum will heal spontaneously within 2 months. During this time, scar tissue forms around the edges of the hole, eventually sealing it up. However, larger perforations or those caused by trauma may require surgical repair to close.

Factors that inhibit healing and may require surgery include:

– Holes larger than 25-50% of the eardrum surface

– Chronic ear infections

– Existing cysts or cholesteatomas

– Severe trauma that causes substantial tissue loss

Even if a rupture heals on its own, there is often some permanent damage. This can lead to continued problems, such as:

– Conductive hearing loss

– Chronic infections

– Ringing or buzzing

– Dizziness

– Need for ear tube placement

So while small perforations can close unaided, they may still result in long-term issues with hearing, balance, or drainage. See an ENT specialist for proper treatment and follow-up.

How can you prevent rupturing your eardrum when popping your ears?

You can prevent eardrum rupture from ear popping by:

– Avoiding forceful methods like blowing hard through the nose, using balloons, or slapping the head. Open the Eustachian tubes gently.

– Treating colds, allergies, or infections that cause eustachian tube swelling before flying.

– Taking decongestants 30-60 minutes before flights to shrink swollen nasal tissue.

– Flying with earplugs, chewing gum, or swallowing frequently to stimulate the Eustachian tubes.

– Descending gradually while scuba diving. Pause during ascent and descent to allow ears to equalize slowly.

– Never putting cotton swabs or other objects into the ear canal to clean or scratch it. This could puncture the eardrum.

– Getting prompt treatment for any ear pain, discharge, or hearing changes after an episode of forceful ear popping. This allows early management of any perforation.

With care and common sense, ear popping can be done safely. See a doctor if you have any symptoms of injury so that hearing loss and other complications can be avoided.

When to see a doctor

You should see a doctor promptly if you experience:

– Severe ear pain during or after popping your ears

– Hearing loss, distortion, or other auditory changes after popping your ears

– Fluid drainage from the ear

– Dizziness, nausea, or ringing in the ear (tinnitus)

– The feeling that your own voice is echoing or abnormal in the affected ear

These can indicate a possible eardrum rupture or other injury that requires medical evaluation. Even if pain is minimal, it is important to have your ears examined and hearing tested after any forceful ear popping episode. Early treatment can help prevent permanent damage and disability. See an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist for the best evaluation.


Yes, it is possible to rupture your eardrum if you pop your ears too forcefully. The most common ways this occurs is by blowing hard through the nose, using an air balloon, or creating substantial pressure waves with a head slap while popping the ears.

Putting excessive pressure through the Eustachian tubes can overcome the delicate eardrum’s ability to withstand it. This can tear the eardrum membrane, resulting in a perforation.

Popping that ruptures the eardrum is extremely painful but brief. It should be evaluated by a doctor, as even small perforations can lead to chronic infections, hearing loss, ringing, or dizziness if left untreated. Larger ruptures often require surgical repair.

Care should be taken to pop the ears gently by swallowing, chewing gum, or yawning. Avoid anything that generates forceful pressure changes in the nasal cavity or middle ear. Seek prompt medical treatment if you experience sudden pain or auditory changes after popping your ears. This allows any injury to be addressed before it leads to permanent disability. With proper precautions, ear popping can usually be done safely without damage.

Summary of key points

It is possible to rupture your eardrum if you pop your ears too forcefully
Blowing hard through the nose or using balloons can generate excessive pressure
A ruptured eardrum causes sudden, severe pain but it fades quickly
Hearing loss, ringing, or dizziness after ear popping require medical evaluation
Small ruptures can heal over several weeks, but larger ones need surgery
Even healed ruptures can lead to ongoing ear problems
See a doctor promptly if you experience any symptoms after forceful ear popping