McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have problems with your ears on an airplane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be plugged? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. Here are a few tips for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, come to find out, do an extremely good job at regulating pressure. Thanks 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. Usually.

Inequalities in air pressure can cause issues in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. There are occasions when you could be suffering from an uncomfortable and frequently painful affliction known as barotrauma which occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in really tall mountains.

The majority of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But when those differences are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working quite right, you can experience pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling because it’s not typical in everyday circumstances. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. In most cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or impediments in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves over your eustachian tubes.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think of someone else yawning and you’ll likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in a fancy way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat easier with a mouthful of water (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are made to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will determine if these techniques or medications are right for you.

Special earplugs will work in some situations. In other instances, that might mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

The real key is figuring out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

If, however, you’re finding that that sensation 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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