Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Possibly someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t recognize why. If your ears feel blocked, here are some tricks to pop your ears.

Your Ears And Pressure

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

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes may have trouble adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. There are instances when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes painful affliction called barotrauma which occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same thing you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

You normally won’t even notice small pressure differences. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly or if the pressure changes are sudden.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather unusual in a day-to-day situation, so you may be justifiably curious where that comes from. The crackling noise is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Normally, air going around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in an elaborate way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after pinching your nose and shutting 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.
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This, by the way, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that will normally work.)

Devices And Medications

If using these maneuvers doesn’t work, there are devices and medications that are specially designed to help you manage the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s intensity will determine if these medications or techniques are appropriate for you.

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

What’s The Trick?

The real key is figuring 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 blockage in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

 

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