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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 all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this works sometimes. Here are a few strategies for making your ears pop when they feel blocked.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it so happens, do an extremely good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes may have problems adjusting, and irregularities in air pressure can cause issues. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you might start suffering from something known as 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 situation.

You normally won’t even notice gradual pressure differences. But when those differences are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling in your ears is somewhat uncommon in an everyday situation, so you might be justifiably curious where that comes from. The sound is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. Usually, 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 obstructions.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Typically, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re flying). And if that happens, there are a number of ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. In theory, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way of swallowing. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit easier with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think about somebody else yawning and you’ll likely start to yawn yourself.)
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.

Devices And Medications

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

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

What’s The Trick?

The real trick is finding out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should come and see us. Because this can also be a sign of loss of hearing.

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