Man touching ear in response to crackling noises in his ear.

Do you ever hear noises that appear to come from nowhere, like buzzing, thumping, or crackling? Perhaps, if you have hearing aids, they need to be fitted or require adjustment. But it could also be possible that, if you don’t wear hearing aids, the sounds could be coming from your ears. But don’t stress. Even though we mostly think of our ears in terms of what we see on the outside, there’s much more than meets the eye. Different noises you might be hearing inside of your ears can mean different things. Here are several of the most common. You should talk with a hearing specialist if any of these are impeding your quality of life or are irritating and persistent, although most are short-term and harmless.

Popping or Crackling

You might hear a popping or crackling when the pressure in your ear changes, maybe from an altitude change or from swimming underwater or even from a yawn. These sounds are caused by a small part of your ear called the eustachian tube. When the mucus-lined passageway opens to allow air and fluid to pass, these crackling sounds are produced. Occasionally this automatic process is disturbed by inflammation brought about by an ear infection or a cold or allergies that gum up the ears. In serious cases, where decongestant sprays or antibiotics don’t help, a blockage might call for surgical treatment. You probably should see a specialist if you feel pressure or lasting pain.

Ringing or Buzzing is it Tinnitus?

Once again, if you have hearing aids, you may hear these kinds of sounds if they aren’t fitting properly in your ears, the volume is too high, or your batteries are running low. If you aren’t using hearing aids, earwax might be the issue. It makes sense that excessive wax could make it hard to hear, and cause itchiness or possibly infections, but how could it make a sound? The ringing or buzzing is produced when the wax is pressing against the eardrum and inhibiting its movement. Thankfully, it’s easily solved: You can get the extra wax professionally removed. (This is not a DIY activity!) Intense, persistent buzzing or ringing is known as tinnitus. Even buzzing from excessive earwax counts as a form of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of some sort of health problem and isn’t itself a disease or disorder. Besides the buildup of wax, tinnitus can also be related to depression and anxiety. Tinnitus can be alleviated by treating the underlying health issue; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s significantly less prevalent, and if you can hear it, you’re the one causing the noises to occur! Have you ever noticed how occasionally, if you have a really big yawn, you hear a low rumble? There are tiny muscles in the ear that contract to help minimize the internal volume of some natural actions such as your own voice or chewing or yawning, It’s the contraction of these muscles in response to these natural noises that we hear as rumbling. We’re not suggesting you chew too loudly, it’s just that those noises are so near to your ears that without these muscles, the noise level would be damaging. (But talking and chewing as well as yawning are not something we can stop doing, it’s lucky we have these little muscles.) It’s very unusual, but some people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to create that rumble at will.

Pulsing or Thumping

If you occasionally feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat inside your ears, you’re most likely right. Some of the body’s largest veins run very close to your ears, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether from that big job interview or a hard workout, your ears will pick up the sound of your pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus, and unlike other kinds of tinnitus, it’s one that not only you hear, if you go to a hearing professional, they will be able to hear it as well. While it’s totally normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re dealing with on a daily basis, it’s a wise step to see your physician. Like other forms of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease; there are likely health problems if it persists. Because your heart rate should come back to normal and you should stop hearing it after your workout when your heart rate returns to normal.

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