Ever have problems with your ears on a plane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be blocked? Maybe someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few strategies for popping your ears when they feel clogged.
Pressure And Your Ears
Your ears, as it turns out, do an incredibly good job at regulating pressure. Thanks to a useful little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.
There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and irregularities in air pressure can cause issues. There are times when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and frequently painful affliction known as barotrauma which happens when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.
The majority of the time, you won’t notice differences in pressure. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working quite right, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.
Where’s That Crackling Originating From?
Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty uncommon in an everyday setting, so you may be understandably curious where that comes from. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. Usually, air moving around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.
Neutralizing Ear Pressure
Usually, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re flying). And if that occurs, there are a number of ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:
- Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air get out. Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
- Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
- Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
- Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having trouble getting sleepy, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll probably start to yawn yourself.)
- Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. 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 might help.
Medications And Devices
There are medications and devices that are made to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, as well as the severity of your symptoms.
Special earplugs will do the job in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other situations. It all depends on your scenario.
What’s The Trick?
Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real secret.
If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should call us for a consultation. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.