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

Ever hear sounds that seem to come from nowhere, such as crackling, buzzing or thumping? If you use hearing aids, it could mean that they require adjustment or aren’t fitted properly. But if you don’t have hearing aids the noises are originating from inside your ear. But don’t panic. Even though we generally think of our ears in terms of what they look like on the outside, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Here are some of the more common sounds you may hear inside your ears, and what they may indicate is going on. Even though most are harmless (and not long lasting), if any are persistent, painful, or otherwise interfering with your quality of life, it’s a smart strategy to get in touch with a hearing specialist.

Popping or Crackling

You may hear a crackling or popping when the pressure in your ear changes, maybe from a change in altitude or from swimming underwater or even from a yawn. The eustachian tube, a tiny part of your ear, is where these sounds originate. When the mucus-lined passageway opens to allow air and fluid to flow, these crackling sounds are produced. It’s an automatic process, but in some circumstances, like if you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, the passageway can actually get gummed up. Surgery is sometimes needed in extreme situations when the blockage isn’t helped by antibiotics or decongestants. You probably should see a specialist if you feel pressure or chronic pain.

Buzzing or Ringing is it Tinnitus?

Once more, if you have hearing aids, you could hear these types of sounds if they aren’t sitting properly in your ears, the volume is too loud, or you have low batteries. If you’re not using hearing aids, earwax might be your problem. It seems logical that excessive wax could make it hard to hear, and cause itchiness or possibly infections, but how could it make a sound? The buzzing or ringing is produced when the wax is pushing against the eardrum and suppressing its movement. The good news is, it’s easily solved: You can get the excess wax removed professionally. (Don’t try to do this at home!) Tinnitus is the term for lasting ringing or buzzing. Even noise from excessive earwax counts as a type of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of some sort of health problem and is not itself a disease or disorder. While it might be as simple as the buildup of wax, tinnitus is also associated with afflictions like anxiety and depression. Tinnitus can be relieved by treating the root health problem; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s significantly less common, and if you can hear it, you’re the one causing the sound to occur! Have you ever observed how sometimes, if you have a really big yawn, you can hear a low rumble? 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 chewing, yawning, even your own voice! We’re not suggesting you chew too loudly, it’s just that those sounds are so close to your ears that without these muscles, the volume level would be damaging. (But chewing and talking as well as yawning are not optional, it’s a good thing we have these little muscles.) It’s very unusual, but some people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to produce that rumble whenever they want.

Pulsing or Thumping

If you occasionally feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat in your ears, you’re most likely right. Some of the body’s biggest veins are extremely close to your ears, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether it’s from a hard workout or an important job interview, the sound of your pulse will be detected by your ears. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus, and unlike other types of tinnitus, it’s one that not only you hear, if you go to see a hearing professional, they will be able to hear it as well. While it’s totally normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re living with on a daily basis, it’s a smart move to see a doctor. Like other kinds of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is not a disease, it’s a symptom; there are most likely health problems if it persists. But if you just had a good workout, you should stop hearing it as soon as your heart rate comes back to normal.

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