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 your ears suddenly feel plugged? Your neighbor may have suggested chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. If your ears feel clogged, here are a few tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it turns out, do an extremely good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the outside world is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you could begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

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

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in day to day circumstances. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. In most instances, what you’re hearing is air moving around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those blockages.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit easier with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are medications and devices that are specially produced to help you handle the pressure in your ears. Whether these medicines and techniques are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, and also the extent of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. In other instances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. Your scenario will dictate your response.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should come and see us. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.

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