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Popping Ears in Winter - Why do my ears pop in Winter?

Kimberley Bradshaw - Head of Marketing
Written By:
Kimberley Bradshaw

Head of Customer Content Experience

Paul Harrison Hearing Aid UK Founder & Audiologist
Medically Reviewed By:
Paul Harrison

Audiology Expert & Founder

Updated: 4th January 2024
Why do my ears keep popping in winter?

Ear Popping - Why does it happen?

Popping ears in winter

 

Ear popping definition

Why do my ears keep popping in winter?  When the colder months arrive it can cause stress on your ears and hearing because of the drop in temperature.  One of the most common ear problems in winter is 'popping ears', which is due to pressure or pocket of air between the outer and middle ear - as your ear cavity tries to equalise the pressure on the other side of your eardrum. 

Let me explain, the pressure in your ear ends up there via the Eustachian tube that connects your nose to your middle ear, which is there to equalise any pressure in your ears.  Every time you swallow, yawn or blow your nose this tube opens up to do just that.

Sometimes air pressure changes too quickly for your Eustachian tube to adapt and do its job - like being on a plane or experiencing sudden changes in temperature.  The transition from cold weather to the warmth of the indoors can also affect your ear's pressure.  In these cases, you can physically feel the pressure and air pocket pushing against your eardrum causing it to pop or even feeling uncomfortable or painful.

 

What causes ear popping?

Why do ears pop?   To elaborate more on the examples above, our ears pop when we are on a plane because the higher pressure being closer to the ground.  When the plane eventually lands, the cabin pressure increases so your ears have to adapt quickly.  So your ear's pressure rises when you land and decreases when you take off.  Sometimes if you are already experiencing blocked Eustachian tubes and then going on a plane, you can suffer from Ear Barotrauma

The cold weather, allergies and sinus infections can also cause your Eustachian tube to block and hinder the stabilisation of your ear pressure.  This is commonly known as Eustachian Tube Dysfunction.

Ear Popping

What happens when our ears pop?

When your ears pop it is because your eardrum is going back into place, as the pressure in your middle ear balances out with the pressure outside your body.  It does this by letting the air flow back and forth between your throat and middle ear.  It also gets rid of any excess fluid during the process.

 

How can you relieve popping ears?

You can pop your ears or your Eustachian tubes can be cleared by:

  • Sniffing
  • Yawning
  • Swallowing
  • Sucking a sweet
  • Chewing gum
  • Gargling salty water
  • Using a decongestant nasal spray
  • Having a hot bath or shower

 

Other methods or manoeuvres to help pop your ears:

Valsalva Manoeuvre

  1. Take a deep slow breath
  2. Pinch your nose
  3. Close your mouth
  4. Keep your cheeks relaxed
  5. Slowly blow air down your nose

 

Toynbee Manoeuvre

  1. Pinch your nose
  2. Close your mouth
  3. Swallow

 

Frenzel Manoeuvre

  1. Pinch your nose
  2. Make a 'cluck' sound with your tongue

 

 Ear Popping

Popping Ears in Winter

Is it safe to pop your ears?

 

At-home ear popping guidance

In my experience, your Eustachian tubes will generally sort themselves out over the course of a few days.  It is also quite safe to pop your ears.  However, if any of the above methods hurt your eardrum - you must stop immediately.  If you continue with these manoeuvres with ear pain, it could cause your eardrum to rupture.

 

Can ear popping be dangerous?  

When is it important to seek medical help?  Generally, ear popping is quite normal, especially in winter.  That being said, it is important to remember that if your ears feel blocked, painful, your ear weeps fluid, see any signs of blood from your ears or you lose your hearing - you need to seek medical help immediately.  You could have an ear infection, glue ear, build-up of wax or suffering from a burst eardrum. 

 

Think your hearing has changed?

As a general rule, you should seek professional help if your symptoms are severe or last more than two weeks.  It is always worthwhile having your hearing checked if you are concerned about changes to your hearing.  We can put you in touch with the right local audiologist you can trust.

If you have any questions regarding hearing loss, hearing healthcare or hearing aids - please contact us free on 0800 567 7621

 

 

Read Next:  Our Free 3-Minute Online Hearing Test

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This article was written by audiology expert Paul Harrison

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Managing Director & founder of Hearing Aid UK, with over 20 years of audiology experience and a member of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists Council (BSHAA) between 2015-2020.

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Common FAQs on hearing aids and hearing loss

Is this the best model for me?

If you are looking at this page then it is likely that an audiologist has suggested that you purchase this particular hearing aid, so is this the best model for you?

In general, any audiologist will always be recommending to you the model that best suits your needs. Here is a useful check list to make sure that is the case.

  • Audiologist level of knowledge. The audiologist you have seen will hopefully have a wide knowledge of all available hearing aids, however some will only be familiar with a small number of brands and therefore may not really be in a position to know which model is the best for you. It is OK to challenge their recommendation and ask them to justify why this particular brand is the one for you.
  • Do research. Read about the hearing aid that was recommended. Does it seem like it will suit your lifestyle? Does it have more or less features than you need? 
  • Be aware of sales targets. Many high street retailers have specific tie-ins to a particular manufacturer/brand. The hearing aid they have suggested may still be the correct one for you, but do your research so that you know why they might have recommended it.

If in doubt, feel free to give us a call. That's what we're here for.

Do I need one hearing aid or two?

If you have a significant hearing loss in both ears, you should be wearing two hearing aids. Here are the audiological reasons why:

Localisation. The brain decodes information from both ears and compares and contrasts them. By analysing the miniscule time delays as well as the difference in loudness of each sound reaching the ears, the person is able to accurately locate a sound source. Simply put, if you have better hearing on one side than the other, you can't accurately tell what direction sounds are coming from.

Less amplification required. A phenomena known as “binaural summation” means that the hearing aids can be set at a lower and more natural volume setting than than if you wore only one hearing aid.

Head shadow effect. High frequencies, the part of your hearing that gives clarity and meaning to speech sounds, cannot bend around your head. Only low frequencies can. Therefore if someone is talking on your unaided side you are likely to hear that they are speaking, but be unable to tell what they have said.

Noise reduction. The brain has it’s own built in noise reduction which is only really effective when it is receiving information from both ears. If only one ear is aided, even with the best hearing aid in the world, it will be difficult for you to hear in background noise as your brain is trying to retain all of the sounds (including background noise) rather than filtering it out.

Sound quality. We are designed to hear in stereo. Only hearing from one side sounds a lot less natural to us.

What are the benefits of rechargeable hearing aids?

For most people, the main benefit of a rechargeable hearing aid is simple convenience. We are used to plugging in our phones and other devices overnight for them to charge up. 

For anybody with poor dexterity or issues with their fingers, having a rechargeable aid makes a huge difference as normal hearing aid batteries are quite small and some people find them fiddly to change.

One downside is that if you forget to charge your hearing aid, then it is a problem that can't be instantly fixed. For most a 30 minute charge will get you at least two or three hours of hearing, but if you are the type of person who is likely to forget to plug them in regularly then you're probably better off with standard batteries.

Rechargeable aids are also a little bit bigger and are only available in behind the ear models.

Finally, just like with a mobile phone, the amount of charge you get on day one is not going to be the same as you get a few years down the line. Be sure to ask what the policy is with the manufacturer warranty when it comes to replacing the battery.

 

Are behind the ear aids better than in the ear aids?

For most people, the answer is yes. But it's never that simple.

The majority of hearing problems affect the high frequencies a lot more than the low ones. Therefore open fitting hearing aids sound a lot more natural and ones that block your ears up can make your own voice sound like you are talking with your head in a bucket. Therefore in-ear aids tend to be less natural.

However the true answer is we can't tell until we have had a look in your ears to assess the size of your ear canal, and until we have tested your hearing to see which frequencies are being affected.

People with wider ear canals tend to have more flexibility, also there are open fitting modular CIC hearing aids now that do not block your ears.

There is also the age old rule to consider, that a hearing aid will not help you if it's sat in the drawer gathering dust. If the only hearing aid you would be happy wearing is one that people can't see, then that's what you should get.

Most people can adapt to any type of hearing aid, as long as they know what to expect. Have an honest conversation with your audiologist as to what your needs are.

What are channels, and how many do I need?

Generally speaking, six or more. Unless it's none at all.

The number of channels a hearing aid has is often a simplistic way an audiologist will use to explain why one hearing aid is better than another, but channels are complex and it is really not that straightforward.

Hearing aids amplify sounds of different frequencies by different amounts. Most people have lost more high frequencies than low and therefore need more amplification in the high frequencies. The range of sounds you hear are split into frequency bands or channels and the hearing aids are set to provide the right amount of hearing at each frequency level.

Less than six channels and this cannot be done with much accuracy, so six is the magic number. However, a six channel aid is typically very basic with few other features and is suitable only for hearing a single speaker in a quiet room. The number of channels is not what you should be looking at, it's more the rest of the technology that comes with them.

As a final note, different manufacturers have different approaches. One method is not necessarily better than any other. For example some manufacturers have as many as 64 channels in their top aids. Most tend to have between 17 and 20. One manufacturer has no channels at all.

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Hearing aids are easily lost, misplaced or damaged and typically are one of the most expensive personal possessions an individual can own. We offer hearing aid warranty cover for £80 per year per aid.  Find out more here

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Hearing Aid UK offers all their customers free home visiting services and home visits for hearing aids - Including hearing tests, fittings, maintenance, check-ups and much more in the comfort of your own home and at your convenience.  Find out more information here

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