Hearing Associates of Libertyville, IL

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have issues with pressure in your ears? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be clogged? Maybe somebody 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 making your ears pop when they feel blocked.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it so happens, do a very good job at controlling pressure. Thanks to a beneficial 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 their environment. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes may have problems adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause problems. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you might begin dealing with something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful sensation in the ears caused by pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

You usually won’t even detect small pressure changes. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can experience pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from because it’s not prevalent in day to day situations. The sound itself is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. Normally, air going around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Normally, any crackling will be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (especially if you’re flying). In that circumstance, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think about someone else yawning and you’ll likely start to yawn yourself.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, 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.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.
  • 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 simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are activated. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t work, there are medications and devices that are specially designed to help you handle the ear pressure. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, and also the degree of your symptoms.

Sometimes that could mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. Your situation will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

The real trick is figuring out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

If, however, you’re finding that that feeling of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should call us for a consultation. Because hearing loss can begin this way.


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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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