Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel plugged? Someone you know may have recommended chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t recognize why. Here are a few strategies for making your ears pop when they feel blocked.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at regulating air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

Irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you may begin dealing with something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and sometimes painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact situation.

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

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling because it’s not prevalent in everyday circumstances. The crackling sound is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Usually, 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 Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll probably catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. 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 might help.
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This also sheds light on the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing causes you to swallow.

Devices And Medications

If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specifically produced to help you regulate the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will establish if these medications or techniques are appropriate for you.

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

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 blockage in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

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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