Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be plugged? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. If your ears feel clogged, here are a few tricks to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at regulating air pressure. Thanks to a useful little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the outside world is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

Irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. There are occasions when you may be suffering from an uncomfortable and often painful affliction known as barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re sick. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t recognize changes in pressure. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty unusual in a day-to-day situation, so you may be justifiably curious about the cause. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those blockages.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is a bit simpler with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)

Devices And Medications

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

Special earplugs will work in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other situations. Your situation will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real key.

If, however, you’re finding that that sensation of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should call us for a consultation. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.


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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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