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

Ever hear crackling, buzzing, or thumping sounds that appear to come out of nowhere? If you wear hearing aids, it can mean that they require adjustment or aren’t properly fitted. But if you don’t use hearing aids the sounds are coming from inside your ear. You don’t have to panic. Even though we commonly think of our ears in terms of what they look like on the outside, there’s much more than what you see. Different noises you may be hearing in your ears can mean different things. Here are a few of the most common. Though the majority are harmless (and not long lasting), if any are lasting, irritating, or otherwise interfering with your quality of life, it’s a good strategy to talk to a hearing professional.

Popping or Crackling

You could hear a crackling or popping if the pressure in your ear changes, possibly from a change in altitude or from going underwater or even from yawning. The eustachian tube, a very small part of your ear, is where these sounds originate. When the mucus-lined passageway opens enabling fluid and air to flow, these crackling sounds are produced. Sometimes this automatic process is interrupted by inflammation caused by an ear infection or a cold or allergies which gum up the ears. Surgery is sometimes needed in extreme cases when the blockage isn’t helped by decongestants or antibiotics. If you’re having persistent ear pain or pressure, you really should see a specialist.

Ringing or Buzzing is it Tinnitus?

Once more, if you have hearing aids, you might hear these kinds of sounds if they aren’t sitting properly in your ears, the volume is too high, or your batteries are running low. If you’re not wearing hearing aids, earwax might be your problem. It makes sense that excessive wax might make it hard to hear, and cause itchiness or even infections, but how could it make a sound? The ringing or buzzing is caused when the wax is pressing on the eardrum and suppressing its movement. But not to worry, the extra wax can be removed professionally. (Don’t try to do this yourself!) Intense, persistent buzzing or ringing is called tinnitus. Even buzzing from excessive earwax counts as a form of tinnitus. Tinnitus isn’t itself a disease or disorder; it’s a symptom that suggests something else is taking place with your health. While it may be as straightforward as wax buildup, tinnitus is also connected to afflictions including depression and anxiety. Tinnitus can be relieved by treating the underlying health issue; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This sound is one we cause ourself and is a lot less commonplace. Do you know that rumbling you can sometimes hear when you take a really big yawn? There are little muscles in the ear that contract to help lessen the internal volume of some natural actions like your own voice or chewing or yawning, It’s the contraction of these muscles in reaction to these natural noises that we hear as rumbling. Activities, like yawning and chewing, are so close to your ears that though they are not very loud, they can still be damaging to your hearing. (But chewing and talking not to mention yawning are not something we can stop doing, it’s a good thing we have these little muscles.) It’s extremely unusual, but certain people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to create that rumble whenever they want.

Thumping or Pulsing

If you sometimes feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat in your ears, you’re most likely right. Some of the body’s largest veins run very close to your ears, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether from a tough workout or a big job interview, your ears will detect the sound of your pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus, and when you consult a hearing specialist, unlike other types of tinnitus, they will be able to hear it as well. While it’s absolutely normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re living with on a regular basis, it’s a smart step to see a doctor. Like other kinds of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is not a disease, it’s a symptom; there are probably health concerns if it continues. But if you just had a hard workout, you should stop hearing it as soon as your heart rate comes back to normal.