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Man touching ear in response to crackling noises in his ear.

Ever hear thumping, buzzing, or crackling sounds that appear to come from nowhere? Perhaps, if you wear hearing aids, they need to be fitted or need adjustment. But it may also be possible that, if you don’t wear hearing aids, the sounds may well be coming from your ears. But don’t freak out. Our ears are a lot more complex than most of us may think. Here are some of the more common sounds you may hear inside your ears, and what they could mean is happening. Though the majority are harmless (and temporary), if any are lasting, irritating, or otherwise interfering with your quality of life, it’s a smart strategy to consult a hearing professional.

Popping or Crackling

You may hear a popping or crackling when the pressure in your ear changes, perhaps from an altitude change or from going underwater or even from a yawn. The eustachian tube, a tiny part of your ear, is where these sounds originate. When the mucus-lined passageway opens enabling fluid and air to pass, these crackling sounds are produced. Occasionally this automatic process is interrupted by inflammation caused by an ear infection or a cold or allergies which gum the ears up. In extreme cases, when antibiotics or decongestants don’t help, a blockage can require surgical intervention. You probably should see a specialist if you have pressure or lasting pain.

Buzzing or Ringing is it Tinnitus?

Again, if you have hearing aids, you may hear these kinds of sounds if they aren’t sitting correctly in your ears, the volume is too high, or your batteries are running low. If you aren’t using hearing aids, earwax may be your issue. Itchiness or possibly ear infections make sense when it comes to earwax, and it’s not surprising that it could make hearing challenging, but how could it produce these noises? The ringing or buzzing is produced when the wax is pushing against the eardrum and inhibiting its movement. But don’t worry, the extra wax can be professionally removed. (This is not a DIY task!) Tinnitus is the name for prolonged ringing or buzzing. Even buzzing from excessive earwax counts as a form of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of some kind of health problem and isn’t itself a disorder or disease. Besides the wax buildup, tinnitus can also be connected to depression and anxiety. Diagnosing and dealing with the root health problem can help relieve tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This sound is caused by our own body and is much less common. Have you ever noticed how occasionally, if you have a really big yawn, you hear a low rumbling? It’s the sound of little muscles inside your ears which contract in order to provide damage control for sounds you make: They reduce the volume of chewing, yawning, even your own voice! We’re not claiming you chew too noisily, it’s just that those sounds are so near to your ears that without these muscles, the noise level would be damaging. (And since never chewing or speaking isn’t a good solution, we’ll stay with the muscles, thanks!) It’s very unusual, but some people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to create that rumble at will.

Thumping or Pulsing

If you occasionally feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat in your ears, you’re most likely right. The ears have a few of the bodies biggest veins running very close them, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether from that big job interview or a difficult workout, your ears will pick up the sound of your pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus, and when you consult a hearing specialist, unlike other kinds of tinnitus, they will be able to hear it also. While it’s completely normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re dealing with on a daily basis, it’s a wise move to see a doctor. Like other forms of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease; there are probably health concerns if it continues. But if you just had a good workout, you should stop hearing it as soon as your heart rate goes back to normal.

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