Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on an airplane? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Possibly someone you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this is sometimes effective. If your ears feel blocked, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are rather wonderful at regulating air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Normally.

Irregularities in air pressure can cause issues in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you might start suffering from something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful sensation of the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

You normally won’t even detect small pressure differences. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning efficiently or if the pressure differences are abrupt.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling because it’s not common in day to day situations. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. In that scenario, 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 rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This, incidentally, 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.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way of swallowing. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat simpler with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.

Devices And Medications

There are medications and devices that are designed to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s intensity will establish if these medications or techniques are correct for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other situations. Your scenario will determine your response.

What’s The Trick?

Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real secret.

But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. 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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