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Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Possibly someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel clogged.

Your Ears And Pressure

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 of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

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

The majority of the time, you won’t detect changes in pressure. But you can feel 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 where that crackling is coming from since it’s not common in everyday circumstances. The crackling noise is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. 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.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having difficulty, try this: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when swallowing will force your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This also explains the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think about somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat simpler with water in your mouth (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).

Devices And Medications

There are medications and devices that are designed to deal with ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s intensity will determine if these techniques or medications are appropriate for you.

Special earplugs will do the job in some situations. In other cases, that may mean a nasal decongestant. Your scenario will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that sensation of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should call us for a consultation. Because this can also be a sign of loss of hearing.

 

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