Florida Hearing Matters - Fort Lauderdale, FL

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 your ears suddenly feel blocked? Someone you know may have recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, I bet you don’t recognize why. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tips to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at controlling air pressure. Thanks to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Normally.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. There are instances when you could be suffering from an uncomfortable and often painful condition called barotrauma which happens when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re ill. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

You usually won’t even detect small pressure changes. But when those changes are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working quite right, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling in your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Coming From?

Hearing crackling in your ears is somewhat unusual in an everyday situation, so you may be understandably curious about the cause. The crackling sound is often compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Normally, air moving around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This also explains the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Sometimes this is a bit simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without allowing any air escape. Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.

Medications And Devices

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

Sometimes that may mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other cases. Your situation will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

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 hearing loss can begin this way.