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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have difficulties with your ears on a plane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be clogged? Possibly someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at regulating air pressure. Owing to a useful little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes may have problems adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you may begin suffering from something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and sometimes painful sensation of the ears caused by pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

You generally won’t even detect small pressure changes. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working correctly or if the pressure changes are sudden.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from because it’s not typical in everyday circumstances. The sound itself is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or impediments in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those obstructions.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, especially if you’re at high altitudes, will typically be caused by pressure imbalances. In that scenario, you can use the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having difficulty, try this: 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). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in a fancy way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is somewhat simpler with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.

Medications And Devices

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 severeness will establish if these medications or techniques are right for you.

In some cases that might mean special earplugs. In other circumstances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation 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 make an appointment to see us if you can’t get rid of that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.

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