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 all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel plugged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it turns out, do an incredibly good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Normally.

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes might have problems adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you could start suffering from something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

The majority of the time, you won’t detect differences in pressure. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working correctly or if the pressure changes are abrupt.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling because it’s not prevalent in everyday situations. The sound itself is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or impediments in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those obstructions.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will usually be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that takes place, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-balance:

  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, by the way, is also why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air escape. Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it might be helpful.

Medications And Devices

If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are medications and devices that are specially designed to help you manage the ear pressure. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, as well as the degree of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment to see us if you can’t get rid of that feeling of obstruction in your ear. 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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