The air pressure inside of the ear should be equal to the air pressure outside the ear. The pressure is kept equal by a structure called the Eustachian tube. This tube runs from the middle ear through the back of the nose and ends in the upper portion of the throat. The Eustachian tube ventilates the ear so air pressure can be equalized when needed, such as when changing altitude. It also helps to drain excess fluid from the ear to help prevent infections. If the pressure in the ears becomes unequal, the ears can pop temporarily. This popping sound is created as the Eustachian tube opens to normalize the pressure. However, certain conditions can cause chronic ear popping.
If the Eustachian tube becomes blocked, the ears might pop chronically. This can occur with allergies, sinus infections or upper respiratory infections, according to the Weil Lifestyle website. If techniques such as yawning, chewing gum or swallowing do not relieve the pressure, gargling with warm saltwater often can unblock the tube. Ear popping can worsen if fluid builds up behind the eardrum or if the eardrum is pulled inward. At this stage, prescription strength decongestants, antihistamines and antibiotics might be needed or the fluid might have to be drained.
Ruptured or Perforated Ear Drum
The eardrum plays a role in interpreting sounds and it protects the ear from infections. If a hole or tear develops in the eardrum, mild or severe symptoms can result. The ears might pop, become painful, discharge pus and develop a ringing sound called tinnitus. Dizziness and hearing loss are other complications. In most cases a ruptured eardrum heals on its own within weeks. If not, a patch can be surgically placed on the eardrum to close off the hole.
Ear barotrauma is a general term to describe pressure and discomfort that builds up in the ear, with or without actual physical damage to the ear. In some cases, genetic defects can cause blockages of the Eustachian tube. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including chronic ear popping. Blockages of the Eustachian tube can be the result of genetic defects, abnormal growths or structural problems from various medical conditions.
While the exact cause of Ménière’s disease is not well understood, it might be caused by an abnormal level of fluid buildup inside the ear. Ménière’s disease can cause severe dizziness, ear fullness, ringing in the ears and popping sounds, warns the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Dietary changes, medications and in severe cases, surgery, can be tried to help relieve the symptoms.