Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on an airplane and you start to have issues with ear pressure? Where your ears suddenly feel plugged? Someone you know probably recommended chewing gum. And while that sometimes works, I bet you don’t recognize why. Here are a few strategies for making your ears pop when they feel blocked.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are rather good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a beneficial 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.

Inequalities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. There are instances when you could be suffering from an uncomfortable and frequently painful affliction known as barotrauma which occurs when there is a buildup of fluid behind the ears or when you’re sick. This is the same situation you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

Most of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning efficiently or if the pressure differences are abrupt.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You may become curious where that crackling is coming from since it’s not prevalent in day to day situations. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Normally, air going around blockages of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will usually be caused by pressure imbalances. And if that happens, there are a few ways to bring your inner ear and outer ear back into air-pressure-harmony:

  • Yawn: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just imagine somebody else yawning and you’ll probably catch a yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having problems, try this: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should pass through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Try Swallowing: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This, incidentally, is also why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut 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 swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it might be helpful.

Medications And Devices

If using these maneuvers doesn’t work, there are devices and medications that are specially made to help you manage the ear pressure. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, and also the degree of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will work in some situations. In other circumstances, that could mean a nasal decongestant. Your scenario will dictate your response.

What’s The Trick?

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

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

Why wait? You don't have to live with hearing loss. Call or Text Us