Hearing Health Blog

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on a plane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be blocked? Your neighbor probably suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. Here are a few tips for making your ears pop when they feel blocked.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it turns out, do an extremely good job at controlling pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you might start dealing with something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful sensation in the ears caused by pressure difference. This is the same thing you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

You generally won’t even detect gradual pressure changes. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning efficiently or if the pressure changes are sudden.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

Hearing crackling in your ears is rather unusual in an everyday setting, so you may be understandably curious about the cause. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. In most instances, what you’re hearing is air moving around obstructions or impediments in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Most commonly, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (especially if you’re flying). In that situation, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This, by the way, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is a bit easier with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. In theory, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also work.

Medications And Devices

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are medications and devices that are specially produced to help you regulate the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will determine if these techniques or medications are right for you.

Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other instances, that might mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will determine your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real trick.

But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.

 

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