Man touching ear in response to crackling noises in his ear.

Do you ever hear crackling, buzzing, or thumping noises that seem to come from nowhere? It’s possible, if you have hearing aids, they need to be fitted or require adjustment. But if you don’t have hearing aids the noises are originating from inside your ear. But don’t stress. Even though we usually think of our ears in terms of what we see on the outside, there’s much more than meets the eye. Here are some of the more common sounds you might hear in your ears, and what they could indicate is going on. You should schedule a consultation with a hearing specialist if any of these are lowering your quality of life or are irritating and persistent, although the majority are short-term and harmless.

Popping or Crackling

You could hear a crackling or popping if the pressure in your ear changes, possibly from an altitude change or from swimming underwater or even from a yawn. The eustachian tube, a very small part of your ear, is where these sounds originate. The crackling occurs when these mucus-lined passageways open up, permitting air and fluid to circulate and equalizing the pressure in your ears. It’s an automatic process, but sometimes, like when you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, the passageway can actually get gummed up. In serious cases, where decongestant sprays or antibiotics don’t provide relief, a blockage might call for surgical intervention. If you’re having persistent ear pain or pressure, you should probably see a professional.

Buzzing or Ringing is it Tinnitus?

Again, if you have hearing aids, you might hear these kinds of sounds if they aren’t sitting correctly within your ears, the volume is too loud, or your batteries are running low. But if you don’t have hearing aids and you’re hearing this kind of sound, it could be because of excess earwax. Itchiness or even ear infections make sense with earwax, and it’s not unexpected that it could make hearing difficult, but how could it cause these noises? The buzzing or ringing is caused when the wax is pressing against the eardrum and inhibiting its movement. The good news is, it’s easily fixed: You can have the extra wax removed professionally. (This is not a DIY procedure!) Tinnitus is the term for lasting buzzing or ringing. There are a number of forms of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus is a symptom of some sort of health problem and is not itself a disease or disorder. While it could be as straightforward as wax buildup, tinnitus is also connected to afflictions like depression and anxiety. Diagnosing and treating the underlying health issue can help relieve tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This sound is caused by our own body and is a lot less commonplace. Do you know that rumble you can hear sometimes when you take a really big yawn? It’s the sound of little muscles inside your ears which contract in order to provide damage control on sounds you create: They lessen the volume of chewing, yawning, even your own voice! We’re not saying you chew too loudly, it’s just that those noises are so near to your ears that without these muscles, the volume level would be damaging. (And since never chewing or speaking isn’t a good option, we’ll stick with the muscles, thanks!) These muscles can be controlled by some people, even though it’s very rare, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to create that rumble at will.

Pulsing or Thumping

Your most likely not far of the mark if you at times think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. Some of the body’s largest veins run very close to your ears, and if your heart rate’s high, whether it’s from that big job interview or a difficult workout, the sound of your pulse will be picked up by your ears. This is called pulsatile tinnitus, and when you go to see a hearing expert, unlike other kinds of tinnitus, they will be capable of hearing it also. While it’s completely normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re living with on a daily basis, it’s a wise move to see a doctor. Like other kinds of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom not a disease; there are likely health problems if it persists. Because your heart rate should return to normal and you should stop hearing it after your workout when your heart rate returns to normal.