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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Your neighbor probably suggested chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tips for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at regulating air pressure. Owing to a useful little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Usually.

Inequalities in air pressure can cause problems in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you might begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful sensation in the ears due to pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact condition.

Most of the time, you won’t notice changes in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working correctly 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 prevalent in everyday situations. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Normally, air moving around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

Usually, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re flying). In that circumstance, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that trigger when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also explains the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way of swallowing. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is somewhat simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).

Medications And Devices

If self-administering these maneuvers don’t do the trick, there are devices and medications that are specially made to help you handle the ear pressure. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, and also the extent of your symptoms.

Sometimes that may mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. 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 schedule an appointment to see us if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.


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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.