Hearing Health Blog

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be clogged? Your neighbor probably suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this works sometimes. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, come to find out, do a very good job at regulating pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

Irregularities in air pressure can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. There are instances when you might be suffering from an uncomfortable and sometimes painful condition known as barotrauma which happens when there is an accumulation of fluid behind the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

You normally won’t even detect gradual pressure changes. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning quite right, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is rather uncommon in a day-to-day setting, so you might be justifiably curious where that comes from. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around obstructions or impediments in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those obstructions.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Normally, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re flying). In that scenario, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could be helpful.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just think of somebody else yawning and you’ll likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This also explains the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.

Devices And Medications

There are devices and medications that are designed to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will establish if these techniques or medications are appropriate for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. Your situation will determine your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should make an appointment for a consultation if you can’t get rid of that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.


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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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