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

Ever hear buzzing, thumping, or crackling sounds that seem to come out of nowhere? If you use hearing aids, it might mean that they have to be adjusted or aren’t properly fitted. But it could also be possible that, if you don’t have hearing aids, the sounds may well be coming from inside your ears. There’s no need to panic. Even though we usually think of our ears in terms of what they look like on the outside, there’s much more than what you see. Here are some of the more common noises you may hear inside your ears, and what they may mean is happening. Although most are harmless (and temporary), if any of these sounds are prolonged, irritating, or otherwise impeding your quality of life, it’s a good strategy to get in touch with a hearing expert.

Crackling or Popping

You could hear a popping or crackling if the pressure in your ear changes, maybe from a change in altitude or from going underwater or even from yawning. The eustachian tube, a tiny part of your ear, is where these sounds are produced. When the mucus-lined passageway opens to allow fluid and air to pass, these crackling sounds are produced. It’s an automatic process, but on occasion, like if you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, your tubes can actually get gummed up. Surgery is sometimes needed in severe situations when the blockage isn’t improved by decongestants or antibiotics. If you’re having persistent ear pain or pressure, you should probably consult a specialist.

Buzzing or Ringing is it Tinnitus?

Once again, if you use hearing aids, you may hear these kinds of sounds if they aren’t fitting properly within your ears, the volume is too loud, or your batteries are running low. If you aren’t wearing hearing aids, earwax could be the problem. Itchiness or even ear infections make sense when it comes to earwax, and it’s not unusual that it could make hearing challenging, but how could it create these sounds? The buzzing or ringing is caused when the wax is pushing on the eardrum and inhibiting its movement. Fortunately, it’s easily fixed: You can have the excess wax removed professionally. (This is not a DIY activity!) Tinnitus is the term for lasting buzzing or ringing. There are a few forms of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus isn’t itself a disease or disorder; it’s a symptom that indicates something else is taking place with your health. While it could be as simple as the buildup of wax, tinnitus is also related to afflictions like anxiety and depression. Tinnitus can be eased by dealing with the root health concern; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s not so common, and if you can hear it, you’re the one causing the sound to occur! Have you ever observed how sometimes, if you have a really big yawn, you hear a low rumbling? It’s the sound of little muscles inside your ears contracting in order to provide damage control on sounds you make: They turn down the volume of yawning, chewing, even your own voice! Activities, such as yawning and chewing, are so near to your ears that though they are not really loud, they can still be damaging to your hearing. (But talking and chewing as well as yawning are not something we can stop doing, it’s a good thing we have these little muscles.) It’s very rare, but certain people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to produce that rumble at will.

Pulsing or Thumping

Your most likely not far of the mark if you at times think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. Some of the body’s largest veins run very close to your ears, and if your heart rate’s up, whether from a tough workout or an important job interview, the sound of your pulse will be detected by your ears. This is called pulsatile tinnitus, and when you consult a hearing specialist, unlike other forms of tinnitus, they will be capable of hearing it too. If you’re experiencing pulsatile tinnitus but your pulse is not racing, you need to see a specialist because that’s not common. Like other forms of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom; there are most likely health problems if it continues. But if you just had a hard workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate comes back to normal.

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