Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have difficulties with your ears on a plane? Where your ears suddenly feel blocked? Possibly somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this works sometimes. If your ears feel plugged, here are some tricks to pop your ears.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, as it so happens, do an extremely good job at regulating pressure. Owing to a useful 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 the outside world. Normally.

Irregularities in air pressure can cause problems in situations where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you could start dealing with something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensation in the ears due to pressure difference. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around particularly tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t notice changes in pressure. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning correctly or if the pressure differences are abrupt.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

You may become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in day to day situations. The crackling sound is commonly compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. In many cases, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or impediments in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else is effective, try this. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try imagining someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles used to swallow are activated. This also sheds light on the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way of swallowing. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Sometimes this is somewhat easier with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth closed).

Medications And Devices

If using these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are devices and medications that are specially produced to help you regulate the pressure in your ears. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severeness will establish if these medications or techniques are appropriate for you.

At times that may mean special earplugs. In other instances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your scenario.

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 feeling of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should come and see us. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.


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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.