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

Ever hear thumping, buzzing, or crackling sounds that seem to come from nowhere? If you wear hearing aids, it can mean that they have to be adjusted or aren’t properly fitted. But if you don’t have hearing aids the sounds are coming from inside your ear. You don’t have to panic. Even though we mostly think of our ears in terms of what they look like on the outside, there’s a lot more than what you see. Here are some of the more common noises you may hear inside your ears, and what they could indicate is happening. Though most are harmless (and not long lasting), if any are persistent, irritating, or otherwise interfering with your quality of life, it’s a good strategy to consult a hearing expert.

Popping or Crackling

When the pressure in your ears changes, whether it’s from altitude, going underwater or simply yawning, you might hear crackling or popping sounds. These sounds are caused by a small part of your ear called the eustachian tube. The crackling sound occurs when these mucus-lined passageways open up, letting air and fluid to circulate and relieving the pressure in your ears. It’s an automatic process, but on occasion, like when you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, the passageway can actually get gummed up. In severe cases, where decongestant sprays or antibiotics don’t provide relief, a blockage may call for surgical treatment. If you’re having lasting ear pain or pressure, you should probably consult a specialist.

Buzzing or Ringing is it Tinnitus?

Once more, if you use hearing aids, you may hear these types of sounds if they aren’t sitting properly within your ears, the volume is too loud, or your batteries are running low. If you aren’t using hearing aids, earwax might be the issue. Itchiness or even ear infections make sense when it comes to earwax, and it’s not unexpected that it could make hearing difficult, but how does it cause these noises? The ringing or buzzing is produced when the wax is pushing against the eardrum and suppressing its movement. The good news is, it’s easily solved: You can get the extra wax removed professionally. (This is not a DIY job!) Tinnitus is the name for prolonged buzzing or ringing. There are a number of types of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus is a symptom of some sort of health issue and isn’t itself a disease or disorder. Besides the buildup of wax, tinnitus can also be linked to anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and treating the root 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 occur! Do you know that rumbling you can hear sometimes when you have a really big yawn? It’s the sound of little muscles inside your ears contracting in order to provide damage control for sounds you make: They reduce the volume of chewing, yawning, even your own voice! We’re not claiming you chew too loudly, it’s just that those noises are so close to your ears that without these muscles, the noise level would be harmful. (And since never speaking or chewing isn’t a good option, we’ll stay with the muscles, thanks!) These muscles can be controlled by some people, though it’s quite unusual, they’re called tensor tympani, and they can produce that rumble whenever they want.

Thumping or Pulsing

If you at times feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat in your ears, you’re probably right. Some of the body’s largest veins are extremely close to your ears, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether it’s from that important job interview or a difficult workout, the sound of your pulse will be detected by your ears. Pulsatile tinnitus is the term for this, and when you consult a hearing professional, unlike other types of tinnitus, they will be capable of hearing it too. While it’s totally 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 step to see a doctor. Like other sorts of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is not a disease, it’s a symptom; if it persists, it might suggest a health issue. Because your heart rate should return to normal and you should stop hearing it after your workout when your heart rate comes back to normal.

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