The Valsalva Maneuver is where a pilot or passenger pinches their nose, closes their mouth, and then attempts to exhale through their nose. It is used to equalize or clear a buildup of pressure in the ear. I'm always nervous when I do the maneuver, though. I'm afraid I'm going to damage my eardrums in some way.

Can performing the Valsalva Maneuver do damage to the ears, or is it entirely safe?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I've always meant to as a doctor how common it is to have voluntary control over the eustachian tubes. Somehow I learned that trick as a kid... I have no idea how to teach it to anyone else, though. $\endgroup$
    – keshlam
    Dec 8, 2014 at 5:57
  • $\begingroup$ @keshlam I learned it by isolating the muscle movements that caused my ears to pop while swallowing. $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2014 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak: Something like that. Much the way I learned to twitch my ears by noticing that something caused my glasses to move. $\endgroup$
    – keshlam
    Dec 8, 2014 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ @keshlam My instructor had at one time asked me why I didn't need to do this. I told him I could do it without much effort. I was kind of confused that he couldn't do the same, now I think I know why. To teach it: swallow while noticing the low-volume vibrating in your ears and the feel of the muscles around the ears. Now try to make the same muscles move without swallowing. If you are doing it right you will hear the same noise and muscles moving. I don't remember trying this when diving, but it works great at altitude. $\endgroup$
    – BAR
    Aug 20, 2015 at 12:07

2 Answers 2


Yes, it's safe. It's taught to scuba divers as a standard method for equalizing air pressure, with the general caveat that it should never take too much effort and if you feel any pain or discomfort from doing it then you should stop diving and consult a doctor. Since pressure changes in the air are much more gradual than those underwater, it shouldn't be difficult at all to equalize in an aircraft.

  • $\begingroup$ ditto. And after an altitude chamber ride one is advised to valsalva frequently for the rest of the day to prevent nitrogen build up. Nonetheless I woke up the next morning and my ears hurt like hell. It hurt to valsalva but the pain stopped immediately. $\endgroup$
    – radarbob
    Dec 8, 2014 at 2:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @radarbob I can't see any connection between the valsalva and dumping nitrogen (which is only ever a factor of time). $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:11

It is safe. Start slow if its new to you. I used it for years at the airlines with no issues.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .