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Enhanced Hearing Center - Springfield, MO

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have issues with ear pressure? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be plugged? Perhaps someone you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. If your ears feel clogged, here are a few tips to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are rather wonderful at controlling air 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. Usually.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes may have difficulty adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause problems. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you may start suffering from something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensation in the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around really tall mountains.

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

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty unusual in an everyday situation, so you might be understandably curious where that comes from. The sound itself is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those obstructions.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just a fancy way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat simpler with a mouthful of water (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just think of somebody else yawning and you’ll likely start to yawn yourself.)

Devices And Medications

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 severeness will establish if these medications or techniques are right for you.

In some cases that may mean special earplugs. In other circumstances, that may mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t get rid of that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.


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