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Man touching ear in response to crackling noises in his ear.

Ever hear sounds that seem to come from nowhere, like buzzing, thumping, or crackling? If you use hearing aids, it may mean that they require adjustment or aren’t properly fitted. But it could also be possible that, if you don’t have hearing aids, the sounds might be coming from inside your ears. But don’t stress. Our ears are a lot more complex than most of us may think. Here are some of the more common sounds you may hear in your ears, and what they may indicate is going on. Although most are harmless (and not long lasting), if any are persistent, irritating, or otherwise impeding your quality of life, it’s a good idea to talk to a hearing professional.

Popping or Crackling

When there’s a pressure change in your ears, whether it’s from altitude, going underwater or simply yawning, you could hear popping or crackling sounds. These noises are caused by a small part of your ear called the eustachian tube. The crackling sound happens when these mucus-lined passageways open up, enabling air and fluid to circulate and equalizing the pressure in your ears. It’s an automatic process, but on occasion, like when you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, your tubes can actually get gummed up. In serious cases, when antibiotics or decongestants don’t help, a blockage could require surgical treatment. You probably should consult a hearing professional if you have pressure or lasting pain.

Ringing or Buzzing is it Tinnitus?

Once more, if you use hearing aids, you could hear these types of sounds if they aren’t sitting correctly within your ears, the volume is too loud, or you have low batteries. But if you don’t have hearing aids and you’re hearing this kind of sound, it could be due to too much earwax. It seems logical that excessive wax may make it hard to hear, and cause itchiness or possibly infections, but how can it make a sound? If wax is touching your eardrum, it can restrict the eardrum’s ability to function, that’s what produces the ringing or buzzing. But not to worry, the excess wax can be professionally removed. (Don’t try to do this by yourself!) Tinnitus is the name for lasting buzzing or ringing. There are a number of forms of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus isn’t itself a disorder or disease; it’s a symptom that suggests something else is going on with your health. Besides the wax buildup, tinnitus can also be associated with anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and treating the underlying health problem can help relieve tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This sound is one we cause ourself and is much less common. Do you know that rumbling you can hear sometimes when you take a really big yawn? It’s the sound of tiny muscles inside your ears contracting in order to offer damage control for sounds you create: They reduce the volume of yawning, chewing, even your own voice! We’re not suggesting you chew too loudly, it’s just that those sounds are so close to your ears that without these muscles, the noise level would be harmful. (And since never chewing or speaking isn’t a good solution, we’ll stay with the muscles, thanks!) It’s extremely unusual, but some people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they can create that rumble whenever they want.

Thumping or Pulsing

Your probably not far of the mark if you sometimes think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. Some of the body’s largest veins are extremely close to your ears, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether it’s from a tough workout or a big job interview, the sound of your pulse will be picked up by your ears. Pulsatile tinnitus is the name for this, and unlike other forms of tinnitus, it’s one that not only you hear, if you go to a hearing expert, he or she will be able to hear it as well. If you’re dealing with pulsatile tinnitus but your pulse is not racing, you need to consult a professional because that’s not normal. Like other kinds of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease; there are likely health problems if it persists. Because your heart rate should return to normal and you should stop hearing it after your workout when your heart rate returns to normal.

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