Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on a plane? Where your ears suddenly feel plugged? Possibly someone you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even understand why this is sometimes effective. If your ears feel blocked, here are some tips to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, come to find out, do an extremely 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. Normally.

Inequalities in air pressure can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation in the back of your ears, you may start dealing with something known as barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful feeling of the ears due to pressure difference. At higher altitudes, you experience a small amount of this exact situation.

The majority of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But when those differences are sudden, or when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning quite right, you can feel fullness, pain, and even crackling inside of your ears.

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

You might become curious what’s causing that crackling since it’s not common in everyday circumstances. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of noise. Usually, 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.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

Any crackling, particularly if you’re at high altitudes, will normally be caused by pressure imbalances. In that situation, you can try the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Yawning: For the same reason that swallowing works, try yawning. (If you’re having trouble forcing a yawn, just think about somebody else yawning and you’ll most likely start to yawn yourself.)
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having difficulty: 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 equalized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
  • Swallow: 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 causes the ears to equalize.
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. If you take a mouth full of water (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it might help.
  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. Pinch your nose, shut your mouth, and make “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.

Medications And Devices

If using these maneuvers doesn’t help, there are devices and medications that are specifically produced to help you regulate the pressure in your ears. Whether these techniques or medications are right for you will depend on the root cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the degree of your symptoms.

At times that might mean special earplugs. In other circumstances, that might mean a nasal decongestant. Your scenario will determine your response.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment for a consultation if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because this can also be a sign of loss of hearing.