Ever have problems with your ears on a plane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be plugged? Maybe someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. Here are a few tips for popping your ears when they feel plugged.
Your Ears And Pressure
Turns out, your ears are pretty good at controlling air pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize the pressure in their environment. Usually.
Irregularities in air pressure can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you could start suffering from something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and sometimes painful sensation of the ears caused by pressure differential. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.
You usually won’t even notice small pressure changes. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly or if the pressure changes are abrupt.
What is The Cause of That Crackling?
Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather uncommon in a day-to-day situation, so you might be understandably curious where that comes from. The crackling noise is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Usually, air moving around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.
Equalizing Ear Pressure
Typically, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re flying). In that circumstance, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:
- Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: pinch your nose close your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
- Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way of swallowing. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat simpler with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
- Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
- 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 usually will work.)
- Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
Medications And Devices
There are devices and medications that are made to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the extent of your symptoms.
Sometimes that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other situations. It all depends on your situation.
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 sensation of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because this can also be a symptom of hearing loss.