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 suddenly, your ears seem to be clogged? Perhaps someone you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. Here are a few tips for making your ears pop when they feel plugged.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it turns out, do a very good job at regulating pressure. Thanks 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 situations when your Eustachian tubes may have trouble adjusting, and irregularities in air pressure can cause problems. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you might begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and sometimes painful feeling in the ears due to pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact situation.

You normally won’t even notice gradual pressure changes. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working correctly or if the pressure differences are abrupt.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is pretty unusual in a day-to-day setting, so you may be justifiably curious where that comes from. The sound itself is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. In most instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around blockages 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 will be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (particularly if you’re on a plane). In that scenario, you can try the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit easier with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air get out. Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when swallowing will cause 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 makes you swallow.

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are made to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will determine if these medications or techniques are correct for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment to see us if you can’t get rid of that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because this can also be a sign of hearing loss.

 

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