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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where your ears suddenly feel plugged? Perhaps somebody you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are rather good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a handy 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 the outside world. Normally.

Irregularities in air pressure can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. There are instances when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes painful condition known as barotrauma which happens when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re sick. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

You usually won’t even notice small pressure changes. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning correctly or if the pressure differences are sudden.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is pretty uncommon in an everyday setting, so you may be justifiably curious about the cause. The crackling noise is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Most commonly, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re flying). In that circumstance, you can use the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized 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 chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having trouble forcing a yawn, just think about somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air get out. Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is somewhat simpler with a mouthful of water (because it makes you keep your mouth closed).

Devices And Medications

There are medications and devices that are made to deal with ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will establish if these techniques or medications are right for you.

Sometimes that could mean special earplugs. In other cases, that could mean a nasal decongestant. Your scenario will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t get rid of that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because this can also be a symptom 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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