Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have problems with your ears on an airplane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be blocked? Possibly somebody you know suggested you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. Here are a few tips for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it so happens, do an incredibly good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a useful little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior 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 difficulty adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. There are occasions when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and frequently painful condition called barotrauma which happens when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re ill. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

You usually won’t even detect gradual pressure changes. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working properly or if the pressure differences are sudden.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from because it’s not typical in everyday situations. The crackling sound is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

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:

  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This also explains the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think of somebody else yawning and you’ll likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it might help.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.

Devices And Medications

If using these maneuvers doesn’t work, there are medications and devices that are specifically made to help you manage the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will establish if these techniques or medications are appropriate for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other situations. Your scenario will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment to see us if you can’t get rid of that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.


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