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 your ears suddenly feel clogged? Someone you know probably suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this is sometimes effective. If your ears feel blocked, here are a few tips to pop your ears.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it so happens, do an extremely good job at controlling pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Normally.

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes may have trouble adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you might begin suffering from something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful sensation in the ears due to pressure difference. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t detect differences in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working correctly or if the pressure changes are abrupt.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from because it’s not prevalent in everyday circumstances. The sound itself is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air getting 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.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: pinch your nose close your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just imagine somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it might help.
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This also explains the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.

Devices And Medications

There are medications and devices that are made to deal with ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the extent of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will work in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. It all depends on your scenario.

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 sensation of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.

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