Skip to Content

How do you drain ear pressure?

Ear pressure, also known as ear barotrauma, is a common condition that occurs when the air pressure in your middle ear and the air pressure in the environment are out of balance. This pressure imbalance is often caused by altitude changes, such as when you are flying in an airplane, driving up or down mountains, or scuba diving. Ear barotrauma can cause pain, muffled hearing, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ears. Fortunately, there are some simple techniques you can use to equalize the pressure and drain fluid from your ears to get relief.

What causes ear pressure?

Your middle ear is normally filled with air and connected to the back of your nose by the Eustachian tube. This tube helps equalize pressure on both sides of the eardrum. When the air pressure changes rapidly, the Eustachian tube may not open quickly enough to equalize the pressure in the middle ear. This causes a vacuum effect that pulls fluid and tissue into the middle ear space. The inflated feeling is actually fluid that has leaked in.

Some common causes of ear pressure include:

  • Flying in an airplane
  • Driving up or down mountains
  • Scuba diving
  • Rapid elevation changes
  • Descending in an elevator
  • Weather changes
  • Cold or respiratory infections that cause congestion

Babies and children get ear pressure more often than adults because their Eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal, making it harder for air to flow through and equalize pressure.

Symptoms of ear pressure

The most common symptoms of ear pressure include:

  • Feeling that your ears are “full” or plugged
  • Dull pain or aching in your ears
  • Ringing, popping, clicking, or crackling sounds in your ears
  • Hearing loss or muffled/distorted hearing
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Ear congestion similar to having a head cold

The symptoms of ear pressure can range from mild to severe depending on the underlying cause and how much pressure has built up in the middle ear. Symptoms usually start shortly after the pressure change and go away once the pressure is relieved.

How to drain ear pressure

Here are some simple techniques you can use at home to drain fluid and relieve pressure in your ears:

1. Swallow

One of the easiest ways to open your Eustachian tubes and equalize ear pressure is to swallow. This motion helps muscles in the tube contract and open it up temporarily. Take sips of water and swallow frequently when you feel ear pressure building up.

2. Yawn

Like swallowing, yawning opens the Eustachian tubes. Yawn big and wide to fully extend the tubes and allow air to flow through and drain the pressure.

3. Chew gum

Chewing gum causes motion in the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes. Chew some gum to help relieve minor pressure.

4. Use nasal sprays or decongestants

Nasal sprays or oral decongestants can help reduce congestion and open up blocked Eustachian tubes that may be preventing pressure from equalizing. Use medication a few hours before anticipated pressure changes.

5. Use a nasal balloon

Ear pressure relief devices like nasal balloons or airplane ear plugs are small bulbs that you insert into your nostril and gently squeeze to push air through the Eustachian tube and equalize pressure in the ears. These are available at most pharmacies.

6. Perform the Valsalva maneuver

The Valsalva maneuver increases airflow to your Eustachian tube by increasing the pressure in your airway. To perform it:

  • Close your mouth and pinch your nose closed.
  • Breathe out gently like you’re trying to blow your nose. Don’t blow too forcefully.
  • You should feel your ears “pop” as the pressure equalizes.

7. Try steam inhalation

Inhaling warm, moist air can help open up nasal congestion and drain fluid from your Eustachian tubes and middle ear. Try steaming in the shower, using a humidifier, or breathing in the steam from a basin of hot water with a towel over your head.

8. Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water keeps mucus thin and may make it easier for your Eustachian tube to open and drain fluid. Aim for eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily.

9. Use earplugs

Wearing earplugs when flying or traveling through elevation changes can help prevent pressure buildup. Earplugs gently hold the eardrum in place so pressure changes don’t cause pain or fluid buildup.

How to prevent ear pressure

You can take some steps before and during pressure changes to help keep your Eustachian tubes functioning properly and prevent pain and fluid buildup:

  • Avoid flying with nasal congestion from colds or allergies
  • Use nasal decongestant sprays or oral decongestants
  • Use oral antihistamines if allergies are the cause
  • Avoid sleeping during ascent and descent
  • Swallow and yawn frequently to open Eustachian tubes
  • Suck on hard candy to stimulate swallowing
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can promote fluid retention
  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth
  • Wear earplugs to avoid rapid pressure changes

When to see a doctor

In most cases you can successfully drain fluid and relieve ear pressure on your own using home remedies. See a doctor if:

  • Pain or pressure lasts more than 24 hours
  • Hearing loss, dizziness, or ringing in your ears persists
  • You have blood or fluid draining from your ear
  • Pressure and pain don’t improve with altitude changes
  • You have recurring episodes of ear barotrauma
  • You have ear pressure along with a fever or other signs of illness

Chronic ear pressure may be a sign of Eustachian tube dysfunction. This condition prevents the tubes from opening properly to equalize pressure. A doctor can evaluate your symptoms, rule out underlying problems like ear infections, and provide treatment options.

Medical treatments for chronic ear pressure

If ear pressure becomes a recurring problem, your doctor may recommend some of these medical treatments:

  • Prescription nasal sprays – Corticosteroid nasal sprays like Flonase can help reduce chronic congestion and inflammation in the nasal passages and allow the Eustachian tubes to open.
  • Oral medications – Decongestants, antihistamines, nasal saline, and mucolytic agents like Mucinex can clear mucus and help maintain Eustachian tube function.
  • Eustachian tube dilation – Inserting a small balloon catheter into the tube inflates it, allowing it to open properly and remain patent.
  • Allergy treatment – Allergy testing and immunotherapy can help if allergies are causing chronic congestion.
  • Ear tubes – Surgically inserting tiny tubes into the eardrum helps equalize pressure and ventilate the middle ear.

Home remedies for ear pressure in infants and children

Babies and young children are especially prone to ear pressure due to their narrow Eustachian tubes. Try these home remedies to relieve their discomfort:

  • Encourage swallowing by bottle or breastfeeding during air travel
  • Give a pacifier to suck on for swallowing and chewing motion
  • Wipe or suction nose frequently to ease congestion before and during air pressure changes
  • Massage the area around the ears and jaw to promote drainage
  • Avoid overfeeding before travel to prevent spitting up
  • Sit upright or hold infants at about a 30 degree incline during feeds and pressure changes

If a baby’s ears do not clear on their own or they develop symptoms of an ear infection like fever or fluid drainage, see your pediatrician.

Can ear pressure cause long-term damage?

In most cases, ear pressure is not serious and will not cause long-term damage as long as fluid is able to drain from the middle ear space. However, repeated bouts of pressure can sometimes lead to:

  • Chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction
  • Infections like otitis media (fluid behind the eardrum)
  • Bleeding in the middle ear
  • Ruptured or retracted eardrum
  • Cholesteatoma – benign growth in the middle ear
  • Hearing loss from damage to middle or inner ear structures

That’s why it’s important to treat ear pain and pressure promptly with doctor follow-up if symptoms persist or recur. Preventing repeated pressure buildup can help avoid complications.


Ear pressure is a common problem that can result in pain, muffled hearing, and a feeling of fullness. Most cases are caused by air pressure changes that prevent fluid from draining down the Eustachian tubes properly. Fortunately, there are many simple remedies like swallowing, yawning, gum chewing, nasal sprays, and decongestants that can open up the tubes and relieve the pressure. Drink plenty of fluids, use earplugs, and treat any nasal congestion to help prevent ear barotrauma from developing in the first place. With proper treatment, ear pressure symptoms should pass quickly and fluid can drain without causing any lasting effects.