Quality Hearing Systems - Maplewood, MN

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on an airplane? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, I bet you don’t know why. If your ears feel clogged, here are a few tricks to make your ears pop.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are rather wonderful at controlling air pressure. Thanks to a beneficial 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. Normally.

Inequalities in air pressure can cause issues in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re sick, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you might begin dealing with something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful feeling in the ears due to pressure difference. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving around really tall mountains.

You normally won’t even notice small pressure changes. But you can experience pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning efficiently or if the pressure differences are sudden.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

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

How to Equalize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: 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 neutralized when the air you try to blow out passes over your eustachian tubes.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is really just an elaborate way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit easier with water in your mouth (because it makes you keep your mouth shut).
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty getting sleepy, just think of someone else yawning and you’ll likely start to yawn yourself.)
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be equalized when the muscles that are used to swallow are triggered. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the chewing makes you swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.

Medications And Devices

There are devices and medications that are made to deal with ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s intensity will determine if these medications or techniques are right for you.

Special earplugs will work in some situations. In other cases, that could mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that sensation of having a blocked ear doesn’t go away, you should call us for a consultation. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

 

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