Man touching ear in response to crackling noises in his ear.

Ever hear sounds that seem to come from nowhere, such as buzzing, thumping, or crackling? If you have hearing aids, it could mean that they have to be adjusted or aren’t properly fitted. But if you don’t have hearing aids the noises are originating from inside your ear. But don’t freak out. Our ears are a lot more complex than most of us may think. Here are some of the more common sounds you may hear in your ears, and what they may mean is going on. You should talk with a hearing specialist if any of these are lowering your quality of life or are painful and chronic, though the majority are brief and harmless.

Popping or Crackling

When the pressure in your ears changes, whether from altitude, going underwater or just yawning, you may hear crackling or popping noises. These sounds are caused by a tiny part of your ear called the eustachian tube. When the mucus-lined passageway opens enabling air and fluid to flow, these crackling sounds are produced. It’s an automatic process, but on occasion, like when you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, your tubes can actually get gummed up. Surgery is sometimes needed in extreme cases when the blockage isn’t helped by decongestants or antibiotics. You probably should see a hearing professional if you have pressure or persistent pain.

Could The Ringing or Buzzing be Tinnitus?

Once again, if you use hearing aids, you might hear these kinds of sounds if they aren’t sitting correctly in your ears, the volume is too high, or you have low batteries. But if you’re not wearing hearing aids and you’re hearing this type of sound, it could be due to excess earwax. It makes sense that too much wax might make it tough to hear, and cause itchiness or possibly infections, but how could it make a sound? The ringing or buzzing is caused when the wax is pushing on the eardrum and suppressing its motion. But don’t worry, the extra wax can be removed professionally. (This is not a DIY procedure!) Excessive, persistent ringing or buzzing is called tinnitus. There are several kinds of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus is a symptom of some sort of health problem and is not itself a disorder or disease. Besides the wax buildup, tinnitus can also be linked to anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and dealing with the fundamental health problem can help relieve tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s less prevalent, and if you can hear it, you’re the actually the one making the sound to occur! Do you know that rumble you can sometimes hear when you take a really big yawn? There are tiny muscles in the ear that contract in order to decrease the internal volume of some natural actions such as your own voice or yawning or chewing, It’s the contraction of these muscles in response to these natural sounds that we hear as rumbling. We’re not claiming you chew too noisily, it’s just that those noises are so close to your ears that without these muscles, the noise level would be damaging. (And since you can’t stop chewing or speaking, we’ll stay with the muscles, thanks!) It’s extremely rare, but some people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they can create that rumble at will.

Pulsing or Thumping

Your probably not far from the truth if you sometimes think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. Some of the body’s biggest veins are extremely close to your ears, and if your heart rate’s up, whether from that big job interview or a tough workout, your ears will detect the sound of your pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus, and unlike other kinds of tinnitus, it’s one that not just you hear, if you go to see a hearing expert, he or she will be able to hear it as well. While it’s absolutely normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re living with on a daily basis, it’s a wise move to see your physician. Like other sorts of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom not a disease; there are most likely health issues if it continues. But if you just had a hard workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate returns to normal.