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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Possibly someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, you probably don’t recognize why. If your ears feel clogged, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are rather good at regulating air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the outside world is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes may have problems adjusting, and irregularities in air pressure can cause issues. There are times when you might be suffering from an uncomfortable and frequently painful affliction called barotrauma which occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact situation.

The majority of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But when those changes are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working quite right, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is somewhat unusual in a day-to-day situation, so you might be justifiably curious where that comes from. The sound is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those obstructions.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

Normally, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (especially if you’re flying). In that circumstance, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just a fancy way of swallowing. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could be helpful.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This, by the way, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are designed to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the extent of your symptoms.

On occasion that may mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other situations. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

The real key is finding out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

If, however, you’re finding that that feeling of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should come and see us. Because this can also be a symptom of hearing loss.

 

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