Ever have trouble with your ears on an airplane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be plugged? Your neighbor probably suggested 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 clogged.
Your Ears And Pressure
Turns out, your ears are rather wonderful at controlling air pressure. Thanks to a useful little piece of physiology 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 might have problems adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you could begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful feeling of the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.
You normally won’t even notice gradual pressure changes. But when those changes 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 inside of your ears is pretty uncommon in a day-to-day situation, so you may be understandably curious where that comes from. The crackling sound is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.
How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears
Any crackling, especially if you’re at high altitudes, will typically be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that occurs, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:
- Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This also explains the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
- Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in a fancy way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could be helpful.
- Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
- Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
- 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. Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
Devices And Medications
If using these maneuvers doesn’t work, there are medications and devices that are specially produced to help you manage the pressure in your ears. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, and also the extent of your symptoms.
Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other instances, that may mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will dictate your response.
What’s The Trick?
Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real key.
But you should make an appointment to see us if you can’t shake that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because this can also be a sign of loss of hearing.