Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be blocked? Maybe somebody you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this is sometimes effective. If your ears feel blocked, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at regulating air pressure. Owing to a handy 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. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have problems adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you could begin dealing with something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears due to pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact condition.

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

What is The Source of That Crackling?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not prevalent in day to day situations. The sound is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. 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 blockages.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that occurs, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: pinch your nose close your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having trouble getting sleepy, just think about somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way to swallow. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth closed).
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.

Medications And Devices

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

On occasion that could mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. Your scenario will dictate your response.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should make an appointment for a consultation if you can’t get rid of that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.

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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