Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on an airplane? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be blocked? Your neighbor probably suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. If your ears feel clogged, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, come to find out, do a very good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes may have problems adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause issues. There are instances when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and often painful condition known as barotrauma which happens when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re sick. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around really tall mountains.

You usually won’t even notice gradual pressure differences. But when those differences are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working properly, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not prevalent in day to day circumstances. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around blockages or impediments in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just imagine somebody else yawning and you’ll likely start to yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in a fancy way. 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 closed).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that trigger when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also work.

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are designed to address 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, in addition to the degree of your symptoms.

In some cases that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other situations. Your scenario will dictate your response.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should make 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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