Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

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

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are rather wonderful 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.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you might begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact condition.

You generally won’t even detect small pressure changes. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working properly, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is rather uncommon in a day-to-day setting, so you may be justifiably curious where that comes from. The crackling noise is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

Normally, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (particularly if you’re on a plane). And if that occurs, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just a fancy way of swallowing. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may be helpful.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having difficulty, try this: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.

Medications And Devices

There are medications and devices that are designed to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, as well as the extent of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other situations. Your scenario will dictate your response.

What’s The Trick?

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

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

 

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