How to Pop Your Ears

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have issues with ear pressure? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be clogged? Perhaps somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t recognize why. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tricks to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are rather wonderful at controlling air pressure. Thanks to a handy little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Usually.

There are some situations when your Eustachian tubes might have difficulty adjusting, and inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you could begin suffering from something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful sensation in the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But when those differences are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning properly, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is rather unusual in an everyday setting, so you might be justifiably curious about the cause. The sound itself is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those obstructions.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

Usually, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re on a plane). In that situation, you can use the following technique to equalize ear pressure:

  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way to swallow. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is somewhat easier with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that will usually work.)
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will force your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.

Devices And Medications

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t work, there are medications and devices that are specially made to help you manage the pressure in your ears. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will determine if these techniques or medications are correct for you.

Special earplugs will work 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 key.

If, however, you’re finding that that sensation of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should call us for a consultation. 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.