Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be blocked? Maybe somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. If your ears feel clogged, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it turns out, do an incredibly good job at regulating pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes may have difficulty adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause problems. There are times when you might be suffering from an uncomfortable and sometimes painful affliction known as barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re sick. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

You usually won’t even detect gradual pressure differences. But when those changes are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning quite right, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

You might become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not common in day to day situations. The sound itself is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

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

  • 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 swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is somewhat easier with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles 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.

Devices And Medications

There are devices and medications that are made to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. Whether these medicines and techniques are right for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, and also the degree of your symptoms.

At times that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should make an appointment to see us if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

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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