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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on a plane? Where your ears suddenly feel plugged? Perhaps somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t recognize why. If your ears feel clogged, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it turns out, do a very good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes might have problems adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause problems. There are times when you could be suffering from an unpleasant and frequently painful condition known as barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re sick. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact condition.

The majority of the time, you won’t notice differences in pressure. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working quite right, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty uncommon in an everyday setting, so you may be justifiably curious about the cause. The crackling sound is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Usually, air going around obstructions 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

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. In that situation, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Sometimes this is a bit easier with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think about someone else yawning and you’ll probably start to yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air escape. In theory, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also sheds light on the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specifically designed to help you regulate the ear pressure. Whether these medicines and techniques are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, and also the severity of your symptoms.

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

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. 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.