Causes of Ear and Head Pressure

The human head is designed with empty spaces called sinus cavities. The role of sinuses is not completely clear, but many scientists believe one function of sinuses is to clean the air as it is breathed in, according to the American Rhinologic Society. Some conditions may cause a patient to complain that his or her sinuses feel full or that there is pressure in his or her ears or head. Knowing the causes of ear and head pressure may help in the diagnosis and treatment plan.


When dirt or bacteria enters the sinus cavity, the lining becomes inflamed and produces extra mucus in an attempt to wash away the foreign matter. Sometimes the offending viruses make themselves at home in the warm, wet environment of the inflamed nasal linings, causing even more inflammation and production of mucus. This extra mucus leads to a feeling of pressure in the head.

Ear Infection

Bacterial infections can affect the ear, causing pain and pressure in the ear and head. Bacterial infections can come from an infected wound or piercing.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Fluid can build up in the Eustachian tube in the ear due to swimming or an ear infection. Eustachian tubes are normally closed, lying in a collapsed state and open when necessary to allow air to pass through and equalize pressure, according to McKinley Health Center. Eustachian tube dysfunction describes a condition where the tubes do not open properly, which leads to increased pressure in the ear.

Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, can lead to sinus pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ear stuffiness and nasal congestion and pressure may develop later, according to Medline Plus. Hay fever is caused by environmental allergies, such as an allergy to pollens or mold. Allergic rhinitis is common, affecting one in five people.


Viral infections like the common cold can create ear and head pressure due to the buildup of mucus in the sinuses.


The eardrum separates the middle ear and the ear canal. Air pressure is normally the same in the ear as it is outside the body, regulated by the Eustachian tubes. Barotrauma can occur if the pressure on the outside of the eardrum is different than on the inside of the eardrum, according to Merck Manual. Barotrauma can be caused by changes in altitude like when riding in an airplane or diving underwater, as well as by illnesses or scarring.

Ear wax

Ear wax can build up and cause a feeling of pressure. This can be easily resolved by using an over-the-counter wax softener and remover, or by making an appointment with a nurse for an ear wash.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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