Ever have trouble with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Perhaps someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. If your ears feel clogged, here are some tips to pop your ears.
Pressure And Your Ears
Your ears, as it turns out, do an extremely good job at regulating pressure. Thanks to a useful 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.
There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes may have difficulty adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you might begin suffering from something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensation of the ears caused by pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact condition.
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 properly or if the pressure differences are sudden.
What is The Source of That Crackling?
You may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in day to day circumstances. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages 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.
Neutralizing Ear Pressure
Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will typically be caused by pressure imbalances. In that scenario, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:
- Try Swallowing: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will cause 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 makes you swallow.
- Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
- Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
- Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
- Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
Medications And Devices
If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are medications and devices that are specifically made to help you manage the pressure in your ears. Whether these techniques or medications are the right choice for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, and also the severity of your symptoms.
Sometimes that might mean special earplugs. In other instances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will dictate your response.
What’s The Trick?
Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real secret.
But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.