Man touching ear in response to crackling noises in his ear.

Ever hear buzzing, thumping, or crackling sounds that seem to come out of nowhere? If you wear hearing aids, it can mean that they need to be adjusted or aren’t properly fitted. But if you don’t use hearing aids the sounds are originating from inside your ear. There’s no need to panic. Our ears are a lot more complex than most of us may think. Here are some of the more common sounds you may hear inside your ears, and what they may indicate is happening. Even though the majority are harmless (and temporary), if any are persistent, painful, or otherwise impeding your quality of life, it’s a good idea to consult a hearing specialist.

Crackling or Popping

When there’s a pressure change in your ears, whether from altitude, going underwater or simply yawning, you could hear popping or crackling noises. These noises are caused by a small part of your ear called the eustachian tube. When the mucus-lined passageway opens to allow air and fluid to flow, these crackling sounds are produced. Occasionally this automatic process is disturbed by inflammation triggered by an ear infection or a cold or allergies that gum the ears up. In severe cases, when decongestant sprays or antibiotics don’t help, a blockage may require surgical intervention. You probably should consult a hearing professional if you have pressure or prolonged pain.

Buzzing or Ringing is it Tinnitus?

It might not be your ears at all if you have hearing aids, as mentioned before. If you’re not wearing hearing aids, earwax may be the problem. Itchiness or possibly ear infections make sense when it comes to earwax, and it’s not unusual that it could make hearing challenging, but how does it produce these noises? If wax is touching your eardrum, it can suppress the eardrum’s ability to function, that’s what produces the buzzing or ringing. Fortunately, it’s easily fixed: You can get the extra wax professionally removed. (Don’t attempt to do this yourself!) Intense, persistent ringing or buzzing is known as tinnitus. Even noise from excessive earwax counts as a kind of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of some sort of health concern and isn’t itself a disease or disorder. Besides the buildup of wax, tinnitus can also be associated with depression and anxiety. Tinnitus can be relieved by dealing with the root health concern; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s not so prevalent, and if you can hear it, you’re the one causing the sound to occur! Have you ever noticed how in some cases, if you have a really big yawn, you hear a low rumbling? It’s the sound of little muscles inside your ears contracting in order to provide damage control for sounds you make: They reduce the volume of yawning, chewing, even your own voice! Activities, like yawning and chewing, are so near to your ears that although they are not really loud, they can still be damaging to your ears. (But talking and chewing as well as yawning are not optional, it’s lucky we have these little muscles.) These muscles can be controlled by certain people, even though it’s quite rare, they’re called tensor tympani, and they can produce that rumble at will.

Thumping or Pulsing

Your probably not far of the mark if you at times think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. Some of the body’s biggest veins run extremely close to your ears, and if your heart rate’s up, whether it’s from a hard workout or a big job interview, the sound of your pulse will be detected by your ears. This is called pulsatile tinnitus, and when you go to see a hearing expert, unlike other types of tinnitus, they will be able to hear it too. If you’re dealing with pulsatile tinnitus but your pulse is not racing, you need to consult a professional because that’s not normal. Like other sorts of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom not a disease; if it continues, it could suggest a health issue. But if you just had a hard workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate comes back to normal.

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