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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 all of a sudden, your ears seem to be blocked? Perhaps someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this is sometimes effective. Here are a few tricks for making your ears pop when they feel blocked.

Your Ears And Pressure

Turns out, your ears are rather good at regulating air pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in the outside world. Usually.

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

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

What is The Cause of That Crackling?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling because it’s not prevalent in everyday circumstances. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Normally, air moving around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. Unregulated changes in air pressure, failure of the eustachian tubes, or even congestion can all be the reason for those blockages.

How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears

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

  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way to swallow. With your mouth closed, pinch your nose and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it may help.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: 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 pressure should be neutralized when the air you try to blow out moves 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 works.
  • Swallow: Pressure in the eustachian tubes will be neutralized when the muscles that are used to swallow are activated. This also sheds light on the accepted advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having difficulty forcing a yawn, just think of somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely start to yawn yourself.)

Medications And Devices

If self-administering these maneuvers doesn’t do the trick, there are devices and medications that are specially designed to help you manage the ear pressure. The cause of your barotrauma and it’s severity will determine if these medications or techniques are correct for you.

Special earplugs will work in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be correct in other situations. Your situation will dictate your remedy.

What’s The Trick?

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

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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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.