Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Possibly somebody you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. If your ears feel blocked, here are a few tips to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at regulating air pressure. Owing to a useful little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Usually.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. There are times when you might be suffering from an uncomfortable and frequently painful condition called barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re sick. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

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

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather unusual in a day-to-day setting, so you may be justifiably curious about the cause. The crackling noise is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Normally, air going around obstructions 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.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

Usually, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re on a plane). And if that happens, there are a number of ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This, by the way, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. 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.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is a bit simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specifically designed to help you manage the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s intensity will establish if these techniques or medications are appropriate for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some situations. In other cases, that might mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

The real key is finding out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

But you should make an appointment to see us if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because loss of hearing 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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