Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on an airplane? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Someone you know probably suggested chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, you probably don’t recognize why. Here are a few strategies for making your ears pop when they feel blocked.

Your Ears And Pressure

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, modify, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Usually.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes may have problems adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you could begin suffering from something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling in the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t detect changes in pressure. But when those differences are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning quite right, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather uncommon in a day-to-day situation, so you may be justifiably curious where that comes from. The crackling sound is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will typically be caused by pressure imbalances. In that scenario, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This also sheds light on the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air escape. In theory, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think about somebody else yawning and you’ll probably catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat easier with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).

Devices And Medications

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

Special earplugs will work in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other situations. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

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

 

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