Geneva Hearing Services - Geneva, IL

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have issues with pressure in your ears? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Your neighbor may have suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this is sometimes effective. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tricks to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are rather good at regulating air pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Normally.

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you might begin dealing with something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

You normally won’t even notice small pressure differences. But when those changes are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning quite right, you can experience pressure, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is somewhat uncommon in a day-to-day setting, so you may be justifiably curious where that comes from. The crackling noise is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Normally, air moving around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those blockages.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, by the way, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • 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.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: 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.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is somewhat easier with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).

Medications And Devices

If using these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are devices and medications that are specially designed to help you manage the pressure in your ears. Whether these techniques or medications are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the degree of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other cases, that might mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will determine your response.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should come and see us. 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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