Audio Life Hearing Center- Knoxville, TN

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 your ears suddenly feel blocked? Maybe someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t know why. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel blocked.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it so happens, do an incredibly good job at regulating pressure. Owing 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. Normally.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes may have difficulty adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. There are times when you could be suffering from an unpleasant and often painful affliction called barotrauma which occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

You normally won’t even notice gradual pressure differences. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working correctly or if the pressure changes are abrupt.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not common in everyday circumstances. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those obstructions.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having trouble forcing a yawn, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll probably catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is a bit easier with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also help.

Medications And Devices

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

Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other instances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should come and see us. 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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