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? Someone you know probably suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at regulating air pressure. Owing to a useful little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Normally.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. There are instances when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and frequently painful affliction known as barotrauma which happens when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re sick. This is the same thing you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working efficiently or if the pressure changes are abrupt.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is pretty uncommon in an everyday situation, so you may be justifiably curious about the cause. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most instances, 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

Usually, any crackling will be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (especially if you’re flying). And if that occurs, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just a fancy way to swallow. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is somewhat easier with a mouthful of water (because it makes you keep your mouth closed).
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when swallowing will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This also explains the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also help.

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are medications and devices that are specially designed to help you manage 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 severity of your symptoms.

Sometimes that may mean special earplugs. In other instances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that feeling of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should call us for a consultation. Because this can also be a symptom of hearing loss.


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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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