Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have difficulties with your ears on a plane? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be plugged? Maybe somebody you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel clogged.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it turns out, do an extremely good job at regulating pressure. Owing to a useful little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. There are instances when you could be suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes painful condition called barotrauma which happens when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

The majority of the time, you won’t detect changes in pressure. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working efficiently or if the pressure changes are abrupt.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty uncommon in a day-to-day situation, so you might be justifiably curious where that comes from. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. Normally, air going around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those obstructions.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. In that circumstance, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way of swallowing. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is a bit easier with a mouthful of water (because it makes you keep your mouth closed).
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just imagine somebody else yawning and you’ll probably start to yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose close your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, incidentally, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t work, there are medications and devices that are specially designed to help you regulate the ear pressure. Whether these techniques or medications are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the severity of your symptoms.

On occasion that may mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other situations. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

The real trick is finding out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

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

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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