Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have problems with your ears on an airplane? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be plugged? Possibly someone you know suggested you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even know why this works sometimes. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel plugged.

Your Ears And Pressure

Your ears, come to find out, do a very good job at controlling pressure. Thanks 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. Usually.

Irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause problems in situations where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you may start suffering from something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensation of the ears caused by pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you feel a small amount of this exact condition.

The majority of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working properly or if the pressure changes are sudden.

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not typical in day to day circumstances. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. 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 obstructions.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that works.
  • Try Swallowing: The muscles that activate when you swallow will force your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also explains the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose close your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air get out if you can help it). Theoretically, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just a fancy way of swallowing. With your mouth shut, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could help.
  • Yawn: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn on command, try thinking about someone else yawning, that usually will work.)

Medications And Devices

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

Special earplugs will work in some cases. In other cases, that might mean a nasal decongestant. Your situation will determine your response.

What’s The Trick?

The real key is finding out what works for you, and your eustachian tubes.

But you should make an appointment for a consultation if you can’t get rid of that feeling of obstruction in your ear. Because this can also be a symptom of loss of hearing.