Man touching ear in response to crackling noises in his ear.

Do you ever hear sounds that seem to come from nowhere, such as crackling, buzzing or thumping? It’s possible, if you wear hearing aids, they might need a fitting or need adjustment. But it could also be possible that, if you don’t use hearing aids, the sounds may be coming from your ears. But don’t freak out. Even though we mostly think of our ears with respect to what they look like on the outside, there’s much more than what you see. Different sounds you might be hearing inside of your ears can indicate different things. Here are a few of the most prevalent. Although most are harmless (and temporary), if any are lasting, irritating, or otherwise impeding your quality of life, it’s a smart strategy to talk to a hearing professional.

Popping or Crackling

When there’s a pressure change in your ears, whether from altitude, going underwater or just yawning, you may hear crackling or popping sounds. The eustachian tube, a tiny part of your ear, is where these sounds originate. The crackling occurs when these mucus-lined passageways open up, permitting air and fluid to circulate and relieving the pressure in your ears. It’s an automatic process, but on occasion, like when you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, your tubes can literally get gummed up. In extreme cases, where decongestant sprays or antibiotics don’t help, a blockage could call for surgical intervention. If you’re having persistent ear pain or pressure, you probably should see a professional.

Ringing or Buzzing is it Tinnitus?

Once again, if you use hearing aids, you could hear these kinds of sounds if they aren’t fitting properly within your ears, the volume is too loud, or you have low batteries. But if you’re not wearing hearing aids and you’re hearing this kind of sound, it could be due to too much earwax. Itchiness or even ear infections make sense when it comes to earwax, and it’s not unusual that it could make hearing challenging, but how does it create these sounds? If wax is touching your eardrum, it can restrict the eardrum’s ability to work properly, that’s what produces the buzzing or ringing. The good news is, it’s easily fixed: You can get the excess wax removed professionally. (This is not a DIY task!) Tinnitus is the term for prolonged ringing or buzzing. Even buzzing from too much earwax counts as a type of tinnitus. Tinnitus isn’t itself a disorder or disease; it’s a symptom that indicates something else is happening with your health. While it could be as simple as the buildup of wax, tinnitus is also related to afflictions such as depression and anxiety. Tinnitus can be alleviated by treating the root health problem; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This sound is caused by our own body and is much less commonplace. Have you ever observed how occasionally, if you have a really big yawn, you hear a low rumble? There are tiny muscles in the ear that contract to help decrease the internal volume of some natural actions like your own voice or chewing or yawning, It’s the contraction of these muscles in reaction to these natural noises that we hear as rumbling. Activities, including yawning and chewing, are so close to your ears that though they are not very loud, they can still be damaging to your hearing. (But talking and chewing as well as yawning are not something we can stop doing, it’s lucky we have these little muscles.) It’s extremely rare, but certain people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they can create that rumble at will.

Thumping or Pulsing

If you sometimes feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat in your ears, you’re most likely right. The ears have some of the bodies largest veins running very close them, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether it’s from a tough workout or a big job interview, the sound of your pulse will be picked up by your ears. Pulsatile tinnitus is the term for this, and unlike other kinds of tinnitus, it’s one that not just you hear, if you go to a hearing specialist, he or she will be able to hear it too. If you’re experiencing pulsatile tinnitus but your pulse is not racing, you need to consult a specialist because that’s not normal. Like other kinds of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom; there are probably health issues if it continues. But if you just had a good workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate goes back to normal.

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