Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be clogged? Someone you know may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at regulating air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Usually.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes might have problems adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause issues. There are occasions when you might be suffering from an uncomfortable and frequently painful affliction called barotrauma which happens when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t recognize changes in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly or if the pressure changes are sudden.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather unusual in a day-to-day situation, so you might be justifiably curious where that comes from. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. Usually, air moving 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 cause of those blockages.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Most commonly, 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:

  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • 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 get out. In theory, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having trouble getting sleepy, just think of somebody else yawning and you’ll likely start to yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could help.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. 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.

Medications And Devices

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

At times that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because this can also be a sign of hearing loss.


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