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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on a plane? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be clogged? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, I bet you don’t know why. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tips to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, come to find out, do a very good job at regulating pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have problems adjusting, and irregularities in air pressure can cause issues. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you might begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure differential. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

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

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is rather uncommon in a day-to-day setting, so you may be understandably curious where that comes from. The crackling noise is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most instances, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or impediments in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way of swallowing. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is somewhat easier with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth closed).
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing 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 causes you to swallow.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try thinking about someone else yawning, that usually will work.)

Devices And Medications

If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are medications and devices that are specially produced to help you handle the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will determine if these medications or techniques are appropriate for you.

Sometimes that may mean special earplugs. In other instances, 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.

But you should schedule an appointment to see us if you can’t get rid of that feeling of blockage 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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