Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on a plane? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Your neighbor probably recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. Here are a few strategies for making your ears pop when they feel plugged.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it so happens, do a very good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a useful little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have difficulty adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you might begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

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

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather uncommon in a day-to-day situation, so you might be understandably curious where that comes from. The sound is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. Normally, air going around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure 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, especially if you’re at high altitudes, will usually be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that happens, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-harmony:

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: pinch your nose close your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way to swallow. With your mouth shut, 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: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just think of someone else yawning and you’ll likely start to yawn yourself.)

Devices And Medications

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

Sometimes that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other situations. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should call us for a consultation. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

Why wait? You don't have to live with hearing loss. Call Us Today