Gold Country Hearing - Gold Country Valley, CA

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be blocked? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t know why. If your ears feel plugged, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it so happens, do an incredibly good job at regulating pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Normally.

Irregularities in air pressure can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you could start suffering from something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful sensation of the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving around really tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working properly, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from because it’s not common in everyday circumstances. The sound itself is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air getting around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those obstructions.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

Usually, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (especially if you’re flying). And if that occurs, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when swallowing will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could help.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (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: 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 equalize the pressure.

Medications And Devices

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specially designed to help you manage the ear pressure. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, as well as the severity of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be correct 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 doesn’t go away, you should call us for a consultation. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.


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