Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Your neighbor may have suggested chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t know why. If your ears feel blocked, here are a few tips to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it so happens, do an extremely good job at controlling pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the outside world is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you might start suffering from something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensation in the ears due to pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

You usually won’t even detect gradual pressure differences. But when those differences are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning quite right, you can experience fullness, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is somewhat unusual in an everyday situation, so you might be understandably curious where that comes from. The sound itself is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. Usually, air going 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 obstructions.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will usually be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that occurs, there are a few ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-harmony:

  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy 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.
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This also sheds light on the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air escape. Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.

Medications And Devices

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

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. Your scenario will determine your response.

What’s The Trick?

The real trick 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 hearing loss can begin this way.

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