Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have troubles with your ears on an airplane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be clogged? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this is sometimes effective. If your ears feel blocked, here are some tips to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it turns out, do an extremely good job at regulating pressure. Thanks to a beneficial little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Normally.

There are some instances when your Eustachian tubes may have difficulty adjusting, and irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you may start dealing with something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful feeling in the ears due to pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

You usually won’t even detect small pressure changes. But when those changes 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?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in everyday circumstances. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. Usually, air going around obstructions 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 obstructions.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after pinching your nose and shutting your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air get out. In theory, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may help.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that usually will work.)

Devices And Medications

There are devices and medications that are made to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these techniques or medications are the right choice for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, and also the degree of your symptoms.

In some cases that might mean special earplugs. In other instances, that may mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real trick.

But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t get rid of that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.


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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.