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

Do you ever hear sounds that appear to come out of nowhere, like buzzing, thumping, or crackling? If you wear hearing aids, it could mean that they require adjustment or aren’t properly fitted. But it might also be possible that, if you don’t use hearing aids, the sounds may be coming from your ears. But don’t stress. Our ears are a lot more complex than most of us may think. Different noises you may be hearing inside of your ears could mean different things. Here are several of the most common. Though the majority are harmless (and temporary), if any are persistent, painful, or otherwise interfering with your quality of life, it’s a smart idea to talk to a hearing professional.

Popping or Crackling

You could hear a popping or crackling if the pressure in your ear changes, perhaps from a change in altitude or from swimming underwater or even from a yawn. These noises are caused by a tiny part of your ear called the eustachian tube. The crackling sound happens when these mucus-lined passageways open up, letting air and fluid to circulate and equalizing the pressure in your ears. At times this automatic process is disturbed by inflammation triggered by an ear infection or a cold or allergies which gum up the ears. In extreme cases, where decongestant sprays or antibiotics don’t provide relief, a blockage could call for surgical intervention. You probably should see a specialist if you have pressure or lasting pain.

Buzzing or Ringing is it Tinnitus?

It might not be your ears at all if you have hearing aids, as mentioned before. But if you’re not wearing hearing aids and you’re hearing this kind of sound, it could be because of too much earwax. It makes sense that excessive wax may make it tough to hear, and cause itchiness or even infections, but how could it make a sound? The ringing or buzzing is produced when the wax is pressing against the eardrum and suppressing its motion. But don’t worry, the excess wax can be removed professionally. (Don’t try to do this at home!) Excessive, persistent buzzing or ringing is called tinnitus. There are a number of kinds of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus isn’t itself a disorder or disease; it’s a symptom that indicates something else is happening with your health. While it could be as simple as wax buildup, tinnitus is also connected to conditions including anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and treating the underlying health issue can help alleviate tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s less common, and if you can hear it, you’re the actually the one making the sound to happen! Do you know that rumbling you can sometimes hear when you have a really big yawn? There are tiny muscles in the ear that contract in order to decrease the internal volume of certain natural actions such as your own voice or chewing or yawning, It’s the contraction of these muscles in response to these natural noises that we hear as rumbling. We’re not suggesting you chew too noisily, it’s just that those noises are so near to your ears that without these muscles, the noise level would be harmful. (And since never speaking or chewing isn’t a good solution, we’ll stick with the muscles, thanks!) It’s very rare, but certain people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to create that rumble whenever they want.

Thumping or Pulsing

Your probably not far of the mark if you at times think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. The ears have some of the bodies biggest veins running near them, and if your heart rate’s up, whether from that big job interview or a hard workout, your ears will pick up the sound of your pulse. This is called pulsatile tinnitus, and when you consult a hearing expert, unlike other types of tinnitus, they will be able to hear it also. While it’s completely normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re dealing with on a regular basis, it’s a practical move to see your physician. Like other forms of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom not a disease; there are likely health issues if it persists. But if you just had a good workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate comes back to normal.

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