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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 clogged? Perhaps somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t know why. If your ears feel plugged, here are some tricks to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Usually.

Irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you could begin suffering from something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

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

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in day to day circumstances. The sound is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. Normally, air moving around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Usually, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (particularly if you’re on a plane). In that scenario, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This, by the way, 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.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, 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 travels over your eustachian tubes.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way of swallowing. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is a bit simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.

Medications And Devices

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are medications and devices that are specially made to help you regulate the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will determine if these techniques or medications are correct for you.

At times that could mean special earplugs. In other cases, that could mean a nasal decongestant. 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 feeling of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should call us for a consultation. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.

 

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