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 suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel blocked.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it so happens, do a very good job at regulating pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. There are times when you could be suffering from an uncomfortable and often painful condition called barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact condition.

You usually won’t even detect small pressure changes. But when those changes are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working quite right, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is somewhat unusual in an everyday setting, so you might be justifiably curious about the cause. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or impediments in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat easier with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think of somebody else yawning and you’ll likely catch a yawn yourself.)

Medications And Devices

There are medications and devices that are designed to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, as well as the extent of your symptoms.

Sometimes that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should make an appointment for a consultation if you can’t get rid of that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because this can also be a sign of loss of hearing.

 

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