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 your ears suddenly feel plugged? Maybe somebody you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel blocked.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, come to find out, do an extremely good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the outside world is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes might have difficulty adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems. There are times when you could be suffering from an uncomfortable and frequently painful condition known as barotrauma which happens when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re sick. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t recognize changes in pressure. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working efficiently or if the pressure differences are sudden.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You might become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not common in everyday circumstances. The sound is frequently compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. Usually, air going 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

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

  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try thinking about someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way of swallowing. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may help.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having difficulty, try this: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. In theory, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.

Devices And Medications

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

Sometimes that may mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that feeling of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because hearing loss 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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