Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have issues with ear pressure? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be plugged? Perhaps somebody you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. If your ears feel blocked, here are a few tips to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are rather wonderful at controlling air pressure. Owing to a useful little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Normally.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you might start suffering from something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t notice changes in pressure. But when those differences are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty uncommon in a day-to-day setting, so you might be understandably curious about the cause. The crackling noise is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or impediments in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

Normally, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (especially if you’re on a plane). In that situation, you can try the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing 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 trouble: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way of swallowing. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could be helpful.

Devices And Medications

There are medications and devices that are made to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, as well as the extent of your symptoms.

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

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should make an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because this can also be a sign 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.

Medical information dates as new research comes out all the time - if you have a concern about your hearing, please call us.

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