Hearing Services of Nashville

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on an airplane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be plugged? Someone you know may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it turns out, do an extremely good job at regulating pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you might start suffering from something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensation of the ears caused by pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

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

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not common in day to day situations. The crackling noise is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or impediments in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those blockages.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way to swallow. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is a bit easier with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • 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 usually work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air escape. Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are medications and devices that are specially designed to help you handle the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will establish if these techniques or medications are right for you.

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

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should make an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.


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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.
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