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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be clogged? Possibly somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. If your ears feel clogged, here are some tricks to pop your ears.

Your Ears And Pressure

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

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. There are instances when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and frequently painful condition known as barotrauma which happens when there is an accumulation of fluid behind the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly or if the pressure differences are abrupt.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty unusual in a day-to-day situation, so you may be understandably curious where that comes from. The crackling sound is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or impediments in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those blockages.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having trouble getting sleepy, just imagine somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is somewhat simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).
  • 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 escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are devices and medications that are specially made to help you handle the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will establish if these techniques or medications are right for you.

Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other cases, that could mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your situation.

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 doesn’t go 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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