Hearing Health Blog

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have issues with ear pressure? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Maybe somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. If your ears feel plugged, here are some tips to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it so happens, do a very good job at controlling pressure. Thanks to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the outside world is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. There are times when you might be suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes painful affliction called barotrauma which happens when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t detect changes in pressure. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working efficiently or if the pressure differences are sudden.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You might become curious where that crackling is coming from because it’s not typical in everyday situations. The crackling sound is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or impediments in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that takes place, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think of someone else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air escape. In theory, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way of swallowing. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it might help.
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when swallowing will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.

Devices And Medications

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

On occasion that might mean special earplugs. 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 trick.

If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should call us for a consultation. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.


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