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

Do you ever hear noises that seem to come out of nowhere, such as buzzing, thumping, or crackling? Perhaps, if you use hearing aids, they need to be fitted or require adjustment. But if you don’t use hearing aids the noises are coming from inside your ear. You don’t have to panic. Even though we commonly think of our ears in terms of what we see on the outside, there’s a lot more than what you see. Here are some of the more common sounds you may hear in your ears, and what they may indicate is going on. Even though most are harmless (and not long lasting), if any of these sounds are persistent, irritating, or otherwise interfering with your quality of life, it’s a smart strategy to consult a hearing professional.

Popping or Crackling

When the pressure in your ears changes, whether it’s from altitude, going underwater or just yawning, you may hear popping or crackling noises. The eustachian tube, a tiny part of your ear, is where these sounds originate. The crackling happens when these mucus-lined passageways open up, letting fluid and air to circulate and equalizing the pressure in your ears. It’s an automatic process, but on occasion, like if you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, the passageway can actually get gummed up. In extreme cases, where decongestant sprays or antibiotics don’t help, a blockage could require surgical intervention. You probably should see a hearing professional if you have pressure or persistent pain.

Could The Ringing or Buzzing be Tinnitus?

It may not be your ears at all if you have hearing aids, as previously mentioned. If you aren’t using hearing aids, earwax could be the issue. It makes sense that excessive wax might make it hard to hear, and cause itchiness or even infections, but how can it make a sound? The buzzing or ringing is produced when the wax is pressing on the eardrum and suppressing its movement. Fortunately, it’s easily solved: You can get the excess wax professionally removed. (Don’t attempt to do this at home!) Intense, prolonged buzzing or ringing is called tinnitus. Even buzzing from excessive earwax is a form of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of some sort of health problem and isn’t itself a disorder or disease. While it might be as straightforward as the buildup of wax, tinnitus is also related to afflictions like depression and anxiety. Diagnosing and dealing with the underlying health issue can help alleviate tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s less prevalent, and if you can hear it, you’re the one causing the sound to happen! Have you ever noticed how in some cases, if you have a really big yawn, you can hear a low rumble? There are tiny muscles in the ear that contract in order to reduce the internal volume of certain natural actions such as your own voice or chewing or yawning, It’s the contraction of these muscles in response to these natural sounds that we hear as rumbling. Activities, like yawning and chewing, are so close to your ears that even though they are not really loud, they can still be damaging to your hearing. (And since you can’t stop chewing or speaking, we’ll stick with the muscles, thanks!) These muscles can be controlled by some people, although it’s quite rare, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to create that rumble whenever they want.

Pulsing or Thumping

Your most likely not far from the truth if you sometimes think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. The ears have a few of the bodies biggest veins running near them, and if your heart rate’s high, whether it’s from a tough workout or an important job interview, the sound of your pulse will be detected by your ears. Pulsatile tinnitus is the term for this, and unlike other forms of tinnitus, it’s one that not just you hear, if you go to a hearing specialist, he or she will be able to hear it as well. While it’s absolutely 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 practical move to see a doctor. Like other kinds of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom; if it continues, it may indicate a health concern. Because your heart rate should return to normal and you should stop hearing it after your workout when your heart rate comes back to normal.