HEARING TIPS

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have issues with pressure in your ears? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be plugged? Your neighbor probably recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, I bet you don’t know why. If your ears feel clogged, here are some tricks to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at regulating air 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. Usually.

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes may have trouble adjusting, and inequalities in air pressure can cause problems. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you might begin dealing with something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling in the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

The majority 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 abrupt.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is somewhat unusual in an everyday setting, so you may be understandably curious where that comes from. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. Normally, air going around blockages 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 cause of those blockages.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, 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.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll probably catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air get out. Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way to swallow. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it might help.
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This also explains the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.

Medications And Devices

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are devices and medications that are specifically designed to help you manage the pressure in your ears. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will establish if these techniques or medications are appropriate for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. Your situation will dictate your response.

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 hearing loss.

 

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