Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Your neighbor may have recommended chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. If your ears feel blocked, here are a few tips to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it turns out, do a very 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. Normally.

Irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. There are occasions when you could be suffering from an uncomfortable and frequently painful condition called barotrauma which happens when there is an accumulation of fluid at the back of the ears or when you’re sick. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact condition.

Most of the time, you won’t detect 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?

Hearing crackling in your ears is rather unusual in a day-to-day situation, so you may be justifiably curious where that comes from. The sound is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” style noise. Normally, air going around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

Any crackling, especially if you’re at high altitudes, will typically be caused by pressure imbalances. In that situation, you can try the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: pinch your nose close your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is a bit easier with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).
  • Swallow: The muscles that activate when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also explains the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also work.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll probably catch a yawn yourself.)

Medications And Devices

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

Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other circumstances, that might 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 key.

If, however, you’re finding that that sensation of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because this can also be a sign of hearing loss.