Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on a plane? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tricks to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, come to find out, do an incredibly good job at regulating 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. Normally.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you may begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensation in the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

You generally won’t even detect gradual pressure differences. But when those changes are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working quite right, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

You might become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not prevalent in everyday circumstances. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. In most instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Typically, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (especially if you’re flying). And if that occurs, there are a few ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • 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 will usually work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles used to swallow are activated. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way of swallowing. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat easier with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. In theory, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are designed to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s intensity will determine if these techniques or medications are appropriate for you.

Sometimes that could mean special earplugs. In other circumstances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will determine your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

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


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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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