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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on a plane? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Perhaps somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at regulating air pressure. Thanks to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Normally.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes might have problems adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause problems. There are instances when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes painful affliction called barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re ill. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

Most of the time, you won’t notice changes in pressure. But when those changes are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can experience pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in everyday circumstances. The crackling sound is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

Normally, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (especially if you’re on a plane). And if that occurs, there are a few ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • 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 normally work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air get out. In theory, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way of swallowing. 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 be helpful.
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, by the way, 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.

Devices And Medications

If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specifically made to help you manage the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will establish if these medications or techniques are right for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. In other instances, that might 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.

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 sign 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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