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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on an airplane? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be clogged? Someone you know may have suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. If your ears feel blocked, here are a few tricks to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are rather good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Normally.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. There are instances when you might be suffering from an uncomfortable and often painful condition known as barotrauma which occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

You normally won’t even detect gradual pressure changes. But when those differences are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is somewhat unusual in an everyday setting, so you might be justifiably curious where that comes from. The crackling sound is often 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. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those blockages.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that happens, there are a number of ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This, by the way, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit easier with a mouthful of water (because it makes you keep your mouth closed).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air get out. Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • 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 will usually work.)

Medications And Devices

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are medications and devices that are specially produced to help you manage the pressure in your ears. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will determine if these medications or techniques are appropriate for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. In other instances, that may mean a nasal decongestant. Your scenario will determine your response.

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 experience of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because this can also be a sign of loss of hearing.

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