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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Someone you know may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. Here are a few strategies for popping your ears when they feel blocked.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it so happens, do a very good job at controlling pressure. Owing 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. Normally.

Inequalities in air pressure can cause problems in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. There are instances when you might be suffering from an unpleasant and frequently painful affliction called barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re sick. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t detect differences in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working efficiently or if the pressure differences are sudden.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is somewhat uncommon in an everyday setting, so you may be justifiably curious where that comes from. The crackling noise is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Usually, air moving around obstructions 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 reason for those blockages.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could help.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are activated. This, by the way, is also 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 forcing a yawn, just think about somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose close your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.

Devices And Medications

There are devices and medications that are made to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, as well as the degree of your symptoms.

In some cases that may mean special earplugs. In other cases, that may mean a nasal decongestant. Your scenario will determine 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 hearing loss.

 

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