Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have issues with pressure in your ears? Where your ears suddenly feel plugged? Someone you know may have recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, I bet you don’t recognize why. If your ears feel clogged, here are a few tricks to pop your ears.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, come to find out, do a very good job at controlling pressure. Thanks to a beneficial 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 the outside world. Normally.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes might have trouble adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. There are occasions when you could be suffering from an unpleasant and frequently painful affliction known as barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

You usually won’t even detect small pressure differences. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working efficiently or if the pressure changes are abrupt.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in everyday situations. The sound is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. Normally, air going around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those obstructions.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. In that situation, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • 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 air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in an elaborate way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may help.

Devices And Medications

If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specially produced to help you manage the pressure in your ears. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will determine if these medications or techniques are correct for you.

Special earplugs will work in some situations. In other instances, that might mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

The real trick is finding out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

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

 

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