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 clogged? Perhaps somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, you probably don’t recognize why. Here are a few tips for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it turns out, do an extremely good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause problems. There are instances when you may be suffering from an uncomfortable and sometimes painful affliction called barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same thing you experience in small amounts when flying or driving around really tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t notice differences in pressure. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly or if the pressure changes are sudden.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not common in day to day situations. The crackling noise is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or impediments in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just a fancy way of swallowing. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could be helpful.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also explains the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.

Devices And Medications

If using these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are medications and devices that are specially produced to help you handle the pressure in your ears. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, as well as the degree of your symptoms.

In some cases that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real trick.

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

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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