Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with ear pressure? Where suddenly, your ears seem to be blocked? Maybe someone you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this is sometimes effective. If your ears feel clogged, here are a few tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are pretty good at regulating air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology 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. Usually.

Inequalities in air pressure can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you might start dealing with something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful feeling of the ears due to pressure differential. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact situation.

You normally won’t even notice gradual pressure changes. But when those changes are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t working properly, you can experience pressure, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

What is The Source of That Crackling?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not prevalent in everyday situations. The sound is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” style sound. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air moving around blockages or impediments in your eustachian tubes. Unregulated changes in air pressure, malfunction of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the cause of those blockages.

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (if you can’t yawn on command, try imagining someone else yawning, that will normally work.)
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having trouble: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. In theory, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just swallowing in an elaborate way. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles used to swallow are activated. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what causes the ears to equalize.

Medications And Devices

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

On occasion that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other situations. It all depends on your scenario.

What’s The Trick?

Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real secret.

But you should make an appointment to see us if you can’t get rid of that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because this can also be a sign of loss of hearing.


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