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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have difficulties with your ears on an airplane? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be clogged? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel clogged.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at regulating air pressure. Thanks 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 their environment. Normally.

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. There are times when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes painful condition known as barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same thing you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

You generally won’t even detect small pressure changes. But when those changes are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working quite right, you can experience pressure, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You might become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not common in everyday situations. The sound is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. Normally, air moving around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Usually, any crackling will be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (especially if you’re flying). And if that takes place, there are a few ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-harmony:

  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having trouble forcing a yawn, just imagine somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way to swallow. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may be helpful.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.

Devices And Medications

There are medications and devices that are designed to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will determine if these techniques or medications are appropriate for you.

On occasion that may mean special earplugs. In other cases, that might mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

The real key is figuring out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

But you should make an appointment to see us if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

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