Evanston Audiology - Evanston, IL

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 all of a sudden, your ears seem to be clogged? Someone you know may have recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t know why. If your ears feel blocked, here are some tips to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are rather good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Usually.

Irregularities in air pressure can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you might start dealing with something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful sensation of the ears due to pressure difference. This is the same thing you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But you can feel 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?

You might become curious where that crackling is coming from because it’s not prevalent in everyday circumstances. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Normally, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re on a plane). In that situation, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but instead of 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.
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing 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 makes you swallow.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try thinking about someone else yawning, that usually will work.)

Devices And Medications

There are devices and medications that are designed to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, as well as the extent of your symptoms.

Sometimes that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. Your situation will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that sensation of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because loss of hearing 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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