How weather affects ear pressure

Wondering why your ear pressure changes in certain kinds of weather? We mapped out the science.

The 3 key takeaways

  • Ear pressure comes and goes — You may notice ear pressure changes during certain kinds of weather or rapid shifts in climate conditions.
  • The symptoms of ear pressure are hard to miss — These may include popping, pain, trouble hearing, dizziness, or all of the above.
  • Tools are available — Hearing aids (for people with hearing impairment), ear plugs, and other treatments are available to help reduce issues with ear pressure.

You likely won’t be surprised to learn that the weather can affect your ears. Of course, summer heat can make you sweat more and lead to ear wax buildup, and a windstorm can make conversations harder to understand. But can weather changes affect the way your ears feel?

The short answer is yes. Changes in barometric pressure affect the ears. The popping feeling you get on an airplane? You may also feel that when the weather shifts.

Here’s why and how the weather affects ear pressure, along with some essential coping tips.

How changes in barometric pressure affect our ears

Sudden changes in barometric pressure can affect our ear health. We know this from flying in airplanes. What exactly is barometric pressure, and why does it trigger discomfort? Let’s look at the science.

What is barometric pressure?

Barometric pressure, also known as air pressure or atmospheric pressure, is the force or weight of the air pressure in the Earth’s atmosphere. It presses down on the Earth, so each of the planet’s living inhabitants can feel it. Low pressure indicates rising air, while high pressure is a sign of sinking air.

Barometric pressure is a factor in the weather. Low pressure is conducive to rainy, cloudy weather, while high pressure tends to bring on clear, sunny days. When the barometric pressure changes significantly, the weather often follows suit. For example, going from high to low atmospheric pressure may see the conditions go from clear and sunny to dark, wet weather.

Barometric pressure and our ears

Barometric pressure doesn’t just affect the weather — people may notice ear pain and discomfort.

Barometric pressure can specifically affect the inner ear, which has pressure-sensitive fluid. During rapid shifts in barometric pressure, the pressure outside the ear changes more quickly than inside of it. A small tunnel comprised of soft tissue and muscle, known as the eustachian tube, links your inner ear to your throat. It helps balance the inner ear pressure through popping.

It’s an uncomfortable but natural process. However, sometimes, it doesn’t function as it should. In these cases, a person could develop an otitis externa (the technical term for an ear infection) or ear barotrauma, a type of ear damage that generally resolves on its own.

Seasonal allergies can also worsen the problem by making the Eustachian tube narrow, so the body has to work harder to balance the inner ear pressure.

Symptoms that barometric pressure is affecting your ears include:

  • Headaches
  • Sinus infections
  • Dizziness
  • Ear discomfort or pain
  • Ear ringing
  • Itchy ears
  • Stuffy ears
  • Hearing loss
  • Bleeding

👉 Though barotrauma usually resolves on its own, it can cause permanent damage. Call your doctor if you’re experiencing hearing loss or bleeding, or have any concerns about air pressure and your ears.

Cold weather and ear pressure

During transitional seasons (spring and fall), rain and ever-changing temperatures that can be warm one day and chilly the next may also play a role.

However, the winter months and periods of sus can also bring about challenges. Winter weather (or periods of lower temperatures) can also trigger allergies and a subsequent fluid buildup in the inner ear. Bacteria can form and develop into an ear infection.

The vestibular system, located deep within the inner ear, is responsible for balance and spatial orientation. An ear infection can disrupt it, and you may experience vertigo symptoms like balance issues and dizziness.

High altitude and ear pressure

Though it’s a popular belief that it’s colder at higher altitudes (like snow-capped mountain peaks), that’s not always the case. Still, air pressure and altitude are related (hence why you may experience ear popping during takeoff and landing when flying or hiking mountains). The air thins, and the pressure drops as the altitude rises. If you summited Mount Everest, you’d notice that the air pressure at the top is much lower than at sea level.

Tinnitus through the seasons

Tinnitus occurs when you hear ringing in one or both ears. It’s most commonly experienced in both ears and can happen any time of year. One 2015 study Trusted SourceNational Library of MedicineSeasonal trends in tinnitus symptomatology: evidence from Internet search engine query dataGo to source indicated that searches for it peaked during the winter months. However, it can happen any time of year.

Though it’s unclear why people experience tinnitus more in different seasons, congestion could play a role. In the fall and winter, colds and the flu trigger stuffed noses, which can, in turn, cause tinnitus. Congestion from spring, summer, and fall allergies can have the same effect.

Conditions associated with weather and ear pressure

People prone to specific conditions may have a higher risk of being affected by weather-related changes to ear pressure. Understanding your risk and available treatments can help alleviate discomfort.

Inner ear infections

When the fluid builds up in the Eustachian tube, it can cause an ear infection. Other times, an infection starts in the middle ear and develops in the inner ear. Consequently, the tube narrows, and it’s harder for the ear to balance ear pressure. People with inner ear infections may experience vertigo, dizziness, tinnitus, and hearing issues. Antiviral or antibiotic medications are typically used to treat ear infections.

Headaches

Ever feel head and ear pressure when it rains? Pressure changes can trigger sinus headaches. The eustachian tube may already be narrow, so even a small amount of swelling from barometric pressure changes can cause blockages. Pressure in the forehead, stuffy nose, and fatigue are symptoms of sinus headaches.

Pain relievers and anti-nausea medication may be prescribed.

Weather and Menière’s disease

Studies show that individuals with Meniere’s disease (MD), a disorder affecting the inner ear triggered by fluid buildup, may also be at an increased risk for ear issues when the air pressure changes. Research from 2016 Trusted SourceNational Library of MedicineAtmospheric Pressure and Onset of Episodes of Menière’s Disease - A Repeated Measures StudyGo to source suggested that changes in air pressure were linked with the onset of instances of MD, also called vertigo, which is hallmarked by symptoms such as dizziness. Another study from 2019 Trusted SourceNational Library of MedicineBarometric pressure and the incidence of benign paroxysmal positional vertigoGo to source indicated an association between benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and barometric pressure.

There isn’t a cure for MD, but a low-sodium diet and medications are self-management tools.

Tools for relieving weather-related ear problems

You don’t necessarily have to live with weather-related issues. Certain tools may be available to you, depending on the trigger —and whether or not you have a hearing impairment or condition. Here’s how to relieve ear pressure from allergies and other seasonal, weather-related issues.

Earplugs and other protective gear

Ear plugs can make changes in pressure feel less abrupt by giving your inner ear time to catch up to the shift. As a result, you’ll feel fewer symptoms related to the pressure increase or decrease, reducing discomfort.

Tools that assist with ear popping

You can help your ears pop and provide relief. One way is doing the Valsava maneuver, which requires only the breath. To do it, try the following steps (holding each for about 10 to 15 seconds):

  1. Pitch your nostrils.
  2. Close your mouth.
  3. Exhale gently as you engage your abs.
  4. Repeat as needed.

An Eustachian tube exerciser can aid in the process and is portable, meaning you can take it on airplanes or travel where you might experience added ear pressure.

Hearing aids

Air pressure changes can cause temporary hearing challenges or tinnitus. However, people with mild to profound hearing loss would benefit from hearing aids. Moisture from wet weather can cause issues for hearing aids, such as clogs. Be sure to clean them and call your provider if you need a tune-up.

Pain relief for barotrauma and pressure equalization

There are a few easy ways to relieve some of the pain associated with pressure changes and barotrauma. Chewing gum and sucking on candy, along with over-the-counter nasal decongestants and antihistamines, can be extremely helpful when trying to treat – or even prevent – barotrauma.

Allergy remedies

Allergies can also affect ear pressure. Weather shifts from winter to spring can cause hay fever, which may cause plugged ears or even ear infections due to a buildup of fluid.

Symptom relievers for allergies can also be used for weather-related symptoms (particularly ones that include seasonal allergies). These include antihistamines, nasal sprays, and net-pots.

Pain relief for Barotrauma

Be sure to speak with a provider if you suspect barotrauma. It typically resolves on its own but may require more treatment. For example, in severe cases where pressure damages a child’s ear tubes, the child may need ear tube placement surgery.

Avoid putting drops in your ears to relieve barotrauma pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does ear barotrauma last?

Barotrauma can last a few minutes before resolving. However, sometimes it lasts longer. In more severe cases, it may lead to tympanic membrane perforation (ruptured eardrum), which can take months to heal. If you notice worsening symptoms, call a doctor.

How do you relieve ear pressure from the weather?

Earplugs, antihistamines, and pain relievers can help reduce symptoms of weather-related ear pressure. People with hearing impairment would benefit from hearing aids.

Why do I feel pressure in my head and ears when the weather changes?

Sometimes, the inner ear has trouble acclimating to sudden changes in barometric pressure associated with weather changes. As a result, you may notice pressure in your head and ears when the weather changes, such as going from clear and sunny to dark and rainy quickly.

Does humidity affect ear pressure?

Humidity and ear pressure could be linked. Changes in moisture levels, such as from rain or humidity, can affect ear pressure. You may notice more issues with tinnitus (ear ringing) as a result.

Can rainy weather cause ear pressure?

It can. When the atmospheric pressure decreases, it promotes rainy weather. The weather change can trigger ear pressure, hallmarked by symptoms like discomfort and popping. You may also notice more sinus headaches when it rains.