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

Do you ever hear sounds that appear to come from nowhere, such as buzzing, thumping, or crackling? If you have hearing aids, it might mean that they need to be adjusted or aren’t properly fitted. But if you don’t wear hearing aids the sounds are coming from inside your ear. You don’t have to panic. Even though we usually think of our ears in terms of what they look like on the outside, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Different sounds you might be hearing in your ears could mean different things. Here are a few of the most typical. Though the majority are harmless (and temporary), if any are persistent, irritating, or otherwise impeding your quality of life, it’s a smart idea to consult a hearing specialist.

Popping or Crackling

You could hear a crackling or popping if the pressure in your ear changes, maybe from a change in altitude or from going underwater or even from a yawn. The eustachian tube, a very small part of your ear, is where these sounds originate. The crackling sound happens when these mucus-lined passageways open up, permitting air and fluid 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, when decongestant sprays or antibiotics don’t provide relief, a blockage can call for surgical intervention. You should probably see a specialist if you feel pressure or prolonged pain.

Could The Ringing or Buzzing be Tinnitus?

It might not be your ears at all if you are wearing hearing aids, as previously mentioned. But if you don’t have hearing aids and you’re hearing this type of sound, it could be because of too much earwax. It makes sense that too much wax could make it hard to hear, and cause itchiness or possibly infections, but how can it make a sound? If wax is pressing on your eardrum, it can restrict the eardrum’s ability to function, that’s what causes the buzzing or ringing. But not to worry, the excess wax can be removed professionally. (This is not a DIY job!) Intense, prolonged buzzing or ringing is known as tinnitus. Even buzzing from excessive earwax counts as a form of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of some kind of health issue and isn’t itself a disease or disorder. While it could be as simple as the buildup of wax, tinnitus is also connected to afflictions like depression and anxiety. Diagnosing and treating the underlying health issue can help alleviate tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s not so common, and if you can hear it, you’re the one causing the noises to happen! Do you know that rumble you can sometimes hear when you have a really big yawn? It’s the sound of tiny muscles in your ears contracting in order to provide damage control on sounds you create: They turn down the volume of yawning, chewing, even your own voice! Activities, like yawning and chewing, are so near to your ears that though they are not really loud, they can still be damaging to your ears. (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.

Thumping or Pulsing

Your probably not far from the truth if you sometimes think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. Some of the body’s biggest veins run extremely close to your ears, and if your heart rate’s up, whether it’s from a tough workout or an important job interview, the sound of your pulse will be picked up by your ears. This is called pulsatile tinnitus, and unlike other kinds of tinnitus, it’s one that not only you hear, if you go to see a hearing professional, they will be able to hear it as well. While it’s completely normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re dealing with on a regular basis, it’s a smart step to see your physician. Like other forms of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease; there are likely health problems if it continues. But if you just had a hard workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate comes back to normal.

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