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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have issues with ear pressure? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it so happens, do a very good job at regulating pressure. Thanks to a useful little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Normally.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you could begin suffering from something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure differential. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t notice differences in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning efficiently or if the pressure changes are sudden.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

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

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will typically be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that occurs, there are a number of ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think of someone else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having difficulty, try this: pinch your nose close your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.

Devices And Medications

There are devices and medications that are made to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. Whether these medicines and techniques are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, as well as the severity of your symptoms.

Sometimes that could mean special earplugs. In other cases, that could mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real trick.

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

 

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