Hearing Health Blog

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on a plane? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Someone you know may have suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tips to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

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

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and irregularities in air pressure can cause issues. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you could start dealing with something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling in the ears caused by pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

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

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather unusual in an everyday setting, so you may be understandably curious about the cause. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. Normally, air going around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those obstructions.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just think about someone else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat easier with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: 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 go through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.

Devices And Medications

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

Special earplugs will do the job in some situations. In other cases, that might mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

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

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

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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