Ever have problems with your ears on a plane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be plugged? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel plugged.
Your Ears And Pressure
Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at regulating air pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Usually.
There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes may have difficulty adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause problems. There are instances when you may be suffering from an unpleasant and sometimes painful affliction called barotrauma which happens when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re sick. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.
Most of the time, you won’t detect changes in pressure. But when those changes are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning quite right, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.
Where’s That Crackling Coming From?
Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather unusual in a day-to-day setting, so you may be understandably curious about the cause. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. Normally, air moving 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 reason for those obstructions.
How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears
Any crackling, especially if you’re at high altitudes, will typically be caused by pressure imbalances. In that scenario, you can try the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:
- Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also sheds light on the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
- Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having trouble forcing a yawn, just think about someone else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
- Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having difficulty, try this: pinch your nose close your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
- 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 an elaborate way to swallow. 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 could be helpful.
Devices And Medications
If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specially designed to help you regulate the pressure in your ears. Whether these medicines and techniques are right for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the severity of your symptoms.
Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other circumstances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your situation.
What’s The Trick?
The real key is figuring out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.
If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should call us for a consultation. Because this can also be a sign of hearing loss.