Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t recognize why. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Usually.

Inequalities in air pressure can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. There are times when you might be suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes painful affliction known as barotrauma which happens when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

You usually won’t even detect gradual pressure differences. 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.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty uncommon in an everyday situation, so you might be justifiably curious about the cause. The sound itself is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. Usually, air moving around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those obstructions.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

Usually, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re flying). And if that takes place, there are a number of ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-harmony:

  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having trouble getting sleepy, just think about someone else yawning and you’ll most likely start to yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: pinch your nose close your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles used to swallow are activated. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way to swallow. 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 may be helpful.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.

Devices And Medications

There are devices and medications that are made to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will establish if these medications or techniques are appropriate for you.

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

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment to see us if you can’t get rid of that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because this can also be a sign of hearing loss.


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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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