Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have problems with your ears on an airplane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be plugged? Your neighbor probably suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tips for popping your ears when they feel blocked.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are rather good at controlling air pressure. Thanks 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.

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes might have difficulty adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. There are times when you may be suffering from an uncomfortable and often painful condition called barotrauma which occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid behind the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

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

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is somewhat uncommon in an everyday setting, so you may be understandably curious where that comes from. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air getting around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may help.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, incidentally, 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.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose close your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.

Medications And Devices

If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specially produced to help you regulate the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will determine if these techniques or medications are correct for you.

Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other cases, that might mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

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

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

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.
Why wait? You don't have to live with hearing loss. Call Us Today