2 Reasons Why Your Ears Pop During CPAP Use and What You Can Do About It

You settle in for the night with your CPAP mask on, but as you coast into the land of dreams, it happens—your ears start to pop. You feel like you’re taking off in an airplane. The sensation gets so bad that you can’t sleep and end up turning off your CPAP machine.

This phenomenon is certainly not unheard-of for sleep apnea patients. Here’s a few things that might be causing popping ears—and what you can do about them:

Swallowing Air
Known as “aerophagia,” this is when the air from your CPAP machine goes into your stomach instead of your lungs. Whenever you swallow, the pressure between your middle nose and ear become equal.

However, if you have an external change in pressure, this can cause your ears to pop if you swallow. Think about what it’s like when you swallow on an airplane or elevator—your ears pop. The same is true with a CPAP machine—you have external pressure, plus the change in internal pressure from swallowing. Those two things combined can cause your ears to pop.

So, what can I do?
Sometimes, all it takes is adjusting the pressure on your CPAP machine. Other times, you might want to try a different CPAP mask—or making sure the one you have fits you correctly. Chin straps can also help alleviate this affect.

GERD

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) keeps a band of muscles at the end of your throat from closing properly. This allows some stomach content to leak into your throat. Using CPAP can exacerbate GERD, especially if you have aerophagia on top of that. As the air enters the stomach, it can cause some of the stomach contents to come back up, causing your ears to pop.

So, what can I do?
Sleeping at an angle can help prevent some stomach contents to from coming back up. Eating light suppers or not eating several hours before bedtime is another fix. Wearing a full-faced CPAP mask can also cause you to swallow a lot of air, so switching to a nasal mask or pillow masks can help. Finally, switching from a CPAP machine to a BiPAP machine can address the issue of GERD.

At Advanced Sleep Medicine, we want to help everyone remain CPAP compliant. If you’re wanting to change some of your equipment to see if it addresses popping ears, stop by our online catalog. We have everything you need to get a good night’s sleep.

Comments

  1. Ava Sugar Reply

    I’ve recently experienced the popping ear problem and I have GERD. My ENT doctor put tubes in my ears and it has lessened the occurrence of the airplane-like symptoms but not alleviated them completely. I use the nasal dreamwear mask. I’m also a Mouth breather and use a chin strap I’m a mess! and have my machine at 16. I’m in search of a new sleep doctor in the Richmond area as my present one said that CPAP couldn’t be the source of my ear problems!

  2. Robert Frye Reply

    I have a new CPap machine ResMed AIRSENSE 10. I use a Wisp Nasal mask. Left ear popping drives me crazy. Can’t sleep. Really bad. I want to sleep. Should I consult an audio specialist?

  3. Robert Frye Reply

    Left ear continues to pop so now I have ceased using my new ResMed AIRSENSE 10 machine. I have tried several things. Just tried Debrox earwax removal. Nothing changed. I am thinking of trying heating pad on my ear and face. I must get this eliminated. Thanks

    • Gail Davalos Reply

      Robert,
      Found your comment from last year about your ear discomfort and your cpap machine. I just started using one and I am 4 days in with a blocked left ear. So much discomfort. I think this is a deal breaker for me. Did you ever find relief?

  4. Bernadette Reply

    I have water clogged ears in morning? What causes that?

  5. Bernadette Reply

    I have water clogged ears in morning? What causes that? Sometimes the mask has water also.

    • Katie Reply

      Try turning the humidity down. The same thing happens to me when I turn the humidity up.

    • Max Sedanka Reply

      Condensation.

  6. Kathy Kroell Reply

    I have experienced ear problems using the resmed airsense 10 machine! It is causing ringing and buzzing in my ears even after adjusting the pressure. I’m taking it back today before I have permanent hearing loss! It’s called otic barotrauma when this happens..

    • Colette Andruckow Reply

      Dis you ever figure out how to solve the ringing in your ears? I recently purchased a CPAP machine and since i’ve been using it my ears keep ringing, all day long.

    • Gerard Leclair Reply

      Good day
      I have the exact same issues I also quit using my
      C Pap Machine .But still have occasional ringing in my ears . Also have severe T M J . Thinking The damage is permanent

    • Baylor Reply

      Just started the CPAP 12 nights ago. I am also experiencing ringing in ears and the ear stoppage. Any sure-fire solution known?

  7. Anna Maria Iredale Reply

    My ears are simply plugged. Totally plugged all the time now. I have tried drops, flushing, decongestant, yawning, swallowing, holding my nose and gently blowing, I still cannot
    Get my ears to clear or pop. What do I do?

  8. Bree Salyer Reply

    I started with a Dreamware full face mask, but I’m a side sleeper and was drowning in drool. I’ve tried switching to the nasal mask which is much more comfortable, but has actually caused my teeth to move and I have a gap between my front teeth now. I also can’t keep my mouth closed. So i tried chinstraps but they all hurt and didn’t keep my mouth shut, anyway. I finally found Somnifix strips which have become the answer to my prayers, but now my right ear is popping every other minute. I’ll swallow, it’ll go away then pop again 2 seconds later. I have had GERD in the past, but haven’t experienced it in awhile. Not sure what to do now!

    • Terry Lytle Reply

      Happened to see your mention of the Somnifix, never heard of them before, I’m struggling with c-pap and mouth breathing, going to give them a try. Thanks!

    • Bob Condon Reply

      I tape my mouth shut with 3m microphone medical grade tape. that keeps my mouth shut.

  9. Deirdre Rees Reply

    HELP. My ears have popped and feel water logged ever since I started CPAP two yrs ago. They tried Apap.,, still pop.etc.. now I am on bipap! Going for my 3rd day. What can I do?? ( was titrated for bioap last night… horrible experience).

  10. Estella Reply

    My cpap machine makes both my ears hurt and I wake up choking from dry throat what can I do?

  11. Valerie Mirakaj Reply

    It’s ridiculous that they can’t make a proper CPAP machine. Why does the air have to blow continuously? Since most people who have sleep apnea have breathing problems, the CPAP machine should teach you how to breathe properly..air should blow out of the machine and then stop, allowing you to breathe out. Why must the machine always blow out air? This is what is causing the ear problems. These machines have become so tech savvy, but yet it doesn’t calibrate properly..where’s the thinking in this? So simple, yet still not done properly.

    • La unify Reply

      Try turning on the pressure relief. This will cause it to relieve pressure when you exhale. Then turn the EPR to 3. If you have your machine set to 15 it will subtract 3 on the exhale to 12. You will have to go to the secret “clinical menu” Just search YouTube. It usually is just holding 2 buttons at ounce.

    • Jody Sills RRT, RPSGT Reply

      The pressure has to be continuous because apnea occurs not during inhalation but at that moment you hear the person snore with inhale and then pause for 10 seconds or longer. So it is during the transition to exhaling that the apnea occurs and the pressure is having to do its job. This is why sleep apnea is not only disruptive to your sleep cycle but very dangerous to the rest of your body because your are oxygen deprived for several seconds until your brain sends that signal to wake you up. If the machine only pushed air during inhalation than the apnea would still occur. They do make BiLevel or BiPAP machines that could help with feeling like you are taking a more natural breath. Of course these machines are more expensive and take extra testing or procedures for insurance to pay for them.

  12. Daniela Reply

    I’ve been using the CPAP Machine since 2011 and gave never experienced what I did this morning. My ears are plugged and I’ve tried everything to get them to pop. HELP!!!!!!!( I’ve always gotten water in my ears but today was the first time my ears were plugged. PLEASE HELP!

  13. Daniela Reply

    I’ve been using the CPAP Machine since 2011 and have never experienced what I did this morning. My ears are plugged and I’ve tried everything to get them to pop. HELP!!!!!!!( I’ve always gotten water in my ears but today was the first time my ears were plugged. PLEASE HELP!

    • Jonathan Reply

      Same here. Been using cpap since 2005 and never experienced this stopped up popping ear thing until my dr changed me to the same machine mentioned in several comments. Haven’t found a solution yet

  14. Anna Reply

    I’ve worn a cpap for about 6 years. Recently been going through traction for a pinched nerve in my neck. I now have what seems like TMJ with bad pain in my ear on the same side. What do I do?

  15. Terence Martin Oleary Reply

    My ears especially my left ear is clogged up from using my c-pac machine! It’s like water or air in my ears! What is the best solution to get them unlocked! It’s a very uncomfortable feeling

    • Denise Reply

      Terrance —Please read my solution for ears blocking printed under your comment..See if it works for you .Good Luck -Denise

  16. Denise Reply

    I had the same problem with my C-Pap machine closing my ears.I was about to give up also even after talking to my doctor who could give no answer..Needless to say I tried two things that worked for me.I also am a mouth breather with a full face mask..What I did was stopped eating before I went to bed.Leaving more room in my stomach for air so it wouldn’t back up..Also when I put my mask on I placed the bottom of my mask in the indentation of my chin.This brought the inside sealer part ot the mask almost to the top of my bottom lip there fore holding my mouth closed and the air cant get in ..Worked for me after many aggervating nights of blocked ears..Can’t hurt trying to see if it works for you..Good Luck !!

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  18. Kristy Sherman Reply

    So what is the answer to getting the ears to unplug I had the pleasure turned down I have been this why seance I started using my cpap machine two weeks I want to quit but I quit breathing 100 times a hour scared to stop I could not get enough sleep before my cpap now I can’t deal with talking to people talking puts me on edge because of my ears I am sad need help know what to do.

  19. Frank Reply

    I have been on cpap for 5 years and developed ear clogging issues after the first year. I am also a mouth breather and have severe sleep apnea. I have been able to reduce the problem to the point of a minor annoyance on most days…by losing 40 pounds and working with my doctor to turn down the pressure as I lost weight and still keep it high enough to mitigate my sleep apnea. I think I will need to lose another 25 and drop the pressure further before I am fully out of this problem. But at least in my experience, it is better.

    I should also add that I believe my initial pressure was set too high (with the initial sleep study). and caused damage (otic baritrauma). You can work with your doctor and test dropping it down. This is better than giving up on cpap

  20. Toni Reply

    4 months of using cpap has cured my headaches but now my ears are snap crackle and popping and my left ear has lost hearing. ENT says nothing wrong with the ears and my neurologist says it has nothing to do with the cpap. If that’s the case then why am I not the only one with this complaint? I can’t handle this much longer.please help

  21. Jake Reply

    I would just like to say that to anyone who suffers from sleep apnea. You are not alone. I know it sucks. It is absolutely terrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However, we are all embracing the suck together! You can get through this. It will get better.

  22. Nancy Reply

    I’ve been on a Bipap for 10 months.
    I have Obstructive and General Sleep Apnea
    This last month I am having problems with my ears, especially the left. It was blocked all day today. So annoying.
    Primary Doctor cleared a bit of wax, said both ears have infection.
    Prescribed ears drops..It’s been over a week…not helping ..They’re worse…and now the recall of my Philips Dreamstation.
    Kind of scary to stop? Also scary to keep using.
    I see that I’m not alone.

  23. Dan Smith Reply

    Very frustrating. I have the same issues as all of you. My ENT prescribed steroids (Prednisone) and that fixes the clogged ear and “dead ear” sensation. However, with using the CPAP, it comes back a few weeks after the steroids and then I have to do the steroids again. This is not a healthy or practical solution. However, I do NOT want to lose my hearing so I am in this constant cycle. I have a CPAP with a varying pressure based on my needs so changing the pressure is not something that will fix the problem. The ENT says he can put tubes in my ears but then I have to use earplugs in the shower and whenever I am in water! This all sucks!

  24. Vicky McBurnie Reply

    Used c-pap for just a few days. Head feels like it is in a drum. Ears pop. This has lasted a week. Haven’t used machine for 3 days.

  25. Monica Haubenstricker Reply

    I use the nasal cushions with my bipap and don’t use my water chamber at all. I have the mask where the hose comes off the top of the head! I love it!!! Cuts way down on the water problem!!! Yes I have allergies like everyone. Take a regular allergy pill in the morning with Zyrtec and it gets me through the day and night!! Been using C Pap and now Bi Pap for 25 years.

  26. Kay Reply

    I started using a CPAP in April 2019. Loved it for the first six months, but increasingly found I was waking up several times/night. I have continued to use it regularly until this month.
    About 18 months into using CPAP, I developed tinnitus, with some episodes of vertigo at the time of initial onset. Saw an audiologist and audiogram shows mild hearing loss. Follow up with ENT did not result in any helpful advice, so I saw a GP and began a weight loss program. I have lost 15 lbs and am now normal weight. My spouse says my apnea is much-improved. I exercise a lot, feel healthier and have more energy, but I sleep about 2-3 hours LESS than before I began CPAP, I think partly due to tinnitus 24/7 in both ears for the past 10 months. It never stops and is difficult to fall asleep. I’ve decided to stop using CPAP to see if tinnitus improves.

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