Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. If your ears feel clogged, here are a few tips to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, come to find out, do an incredibly good job at controlling 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.

Irregularities in the pressure of the air 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 in the back of your ears, you could begin dealing with something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful sensation in the ears due to pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

You generally won’t even detect gradual pressure changes. But you can feel 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 may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not prevalent in everyday situations. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. Usually, air moving around obstructions 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 blockages.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having difficulty, try this: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with a mouthful of water (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.

Devices And Medications

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

Special earplugs will work in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other situations. It all depends on your scenario.

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 loss of hearing can begin this way.


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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.
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