Ever have trouble with your ears on a plane? Where your ears suddenly feel plugged? Someone you know probably suggested chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, I bet you don’t know why. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tips to pop your ears.
Your Ears And Pressure
Turns out, your ears are pretty good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Usually.
There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes may have difficulty adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you may start dealing with something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful sensation in the ears due to pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.
Most of the time, you won’t notice differences in pressure. But when those changes are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning quite right, you can experience fullness, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.
What is The Source of That Crackling?
Hearing crackling inside of your ears is pretty unusual in a day-to-day setting, so you might be justifiably curious where that comes from. The crackling noise is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. 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 is going to be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (especially if you’re on a plane). In that situation, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:
- 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.
- Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just imagine somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
- Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This also sheds light on the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
- Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: 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 pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
- Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is somewhat easier with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
Medications And Devices
If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are medications and devices that are specially made to help you manage the pressure in your ears. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, and also the extent of your symptoms.
Special earplugs will work in some situations. In other circumstances, that may mean a nasal decongestant. Your scenario will determine your remedy.
What’s The Trick?
The real trick is finding 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 come and see us. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.