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 suddenly, your ears seem to be clogged? Perhaps somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t recognize why. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tips to pop your ears.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are rather good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior 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 sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you could start suffering from something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling in the ears due to pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact condition.

You generally won’t even detect small pressure changes. But when those changes are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can experience pressure, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You might become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not prevalent in day to day circumstances. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air getting around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, especially if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. In that scenario, you can try the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think of someone else yawning and you’ll probably catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Swallow: 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.

Devices And Medications

There are medications and devices that are designed to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the degree of your symptoms.

At times that could mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. Your situation will determine your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

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

Why wait? You don't have to live with hearing loss. Call or Text Us