Ever have problems with your ears on an airplane? Where your ears suddenly feel clogged? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, I bet you don’t know why. Here are a few tricks for popping your ears when they feel clogged.
Your Ears And Pressure
Your ears, as it so happens, do a very good job at regulating pressure. Owing 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 situations where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you might start dealing with something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling of the ears caused by pressure differential. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around really tall mountains.
You normally won’t even detect gradual pressure changes. But when those changes are rapid, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working properly, you can feel pressure, pain, and even crackling in your ears.
Where’s That Crackling Originating From?
You may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not common in everyday circumstances. The sound is commonly compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. Normally, air moving around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.
Equalizing Ear Pressure
Typically, any crackling is going to be caused by a pressure difference in your ears (especially if you’re flying). And if that occurs, there are several ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-harmony:
- Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in an elaborate way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat easier with a mouthful of water (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
- Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
- Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing can be effective, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just imagine somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely catch a yawn yourself.)
- Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: pinch your nose close your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should go through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
- Swallow: The muscles that trigger when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, equalizing the pressure. This also explains the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
Devices And Medications
There are medications and devices that are designed to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these medicines and techniques are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the degree of your symptoms.
Special earplugs will work in some situations. In other cases, that might mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will dictate your remedy.
What’s The Trick?
The real key is figuring out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.
But you should make an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because this can also be a sign of hearing loss.