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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be clogged? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it turns out, do an extremely good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment 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 air pressure can cause problems. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you might begin suffering from something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful sensation of the ears due to pressure difference. 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 changes in pressure. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can experience fullness, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling in your ears is somewhat unusual in an everyday setting, so you may be understandably curious where that comes from. The sound itself is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. Normally, air moving around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that trigger when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also explains the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: after pinching your nose and shutting 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.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll most likely start to yawn yourself.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • 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 shut).

Medications And Devices

There are medications and devices that are designed to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the severity of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. Your scenario will determine your remedy.

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 shake that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

 

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