Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have difficulties with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, you probably don’t know why. Here are a few strategies for popping your ears when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, come to find out, do an incredibly good job at regulating pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Normally.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes may have difficulty adjusting, and irregularities in air pressure can cause problems. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you may start suffering from something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure differential. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t notice differences in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working efficiently or if the pressure differences are abrupt.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is rather unusual in an everyday situation, so you may be justifiably curious about the cause. The crackling sound is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Usually, air moving around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those blockages.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will typically be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that takes place, there are a number of ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-harmony:

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. In theory, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way of swallowing. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is a bit easier with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will force your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.

Medications And Devices

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t work, there are medications and devices that are specifically designed to help you handle the pressure in your ears. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, as well as the degree of your symptoms.

In some cases that may mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that feeling of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because hearing loss 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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