Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Possibly someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, you probably don’t recognize why. If your ears feel blocked, here are a few tips to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful 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, modify, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Usually.

There are some circumstances when your Eustachian tubes might have problems adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. 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 often painful feeling of the ears due to pressure difference. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around really tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t recognize changes in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning efficiently or if the pressure differences are abrupt.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling because it’s not prevalent in everyday situations. The sound is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. Normally, air going around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Equalizing 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:

  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This also explains the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. 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 makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having trouble getting sleepy, just think of somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having difficulty, try this: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are made to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will establish if these medications or techniques are right for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other situations. Your situation will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

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

 

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