Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be blocked? Possibly someone you know suggested you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t recognize why. If your ears feel clogged, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at regulating air pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Usually.

Irregularities in air pressure can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you could begin dealing with something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears due to pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

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 working efficiently or if the pressure changes are sudden.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not prevalent in everyday circumstances. The sound itself is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. Usually, air going around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Most commonly, any crackling will be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (especially if you’re on a plane). And if that happens, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-harmony:

  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: pinch your nose close your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way of swallowing. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may help.

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are designed to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will determine if these medications or techniques are correct for you.

On occasion that could mean special earplugs. In other circumstances, that might mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will determine your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.


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