Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on a plane? Where suddenly, 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 strategies for popping your ears when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it so happens, do an extremely good job at regulating pressure. Thanks to a useful little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Usually.

There are some instances 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 unpleasant and often painful condition known as barotrauma which occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid behind the ears or when you’re sick. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

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

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is somewhat unusual in a day-to-day situation, so you might be understandably curious about the cause. The crackling sound is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Usually, air going around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Most commonly, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (particularly if you’re on a plane). In that circumstance, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. In theory, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in a fancy way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having trouble forcing a yawn, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This, incidentally, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. 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.

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are designed to deal with ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will establish if these medications or techniques are right for you.

At times that may mean special earplugs. In other instances, that might mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule 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.

Main Line Audiology Consultants, PC