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Hearing Aids by Tricia Leagjeld - Redmond, OR

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Ever have trouble with your ears on a plane? Where out of the blue, your ears seem to be clogged? Possibly somebody you know recommended you try chewing gum. And you probably don’t even recognize why this works sometimes. If your ears feel plugged, here are a few tips to pop your ears.

Pressure And Your Ears

Turns out, your ears are pretty wonderful at regulating air pressure. Thanks to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure inside of your ears is able to regulate, modify, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Usually.

Irregularities in the pressure of the air can cause issues in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid accumulation behind your ears, you could start suffering from something called barotrauma, an uncomfortable and often painful sensation in the ears due to pressure differential. This is the same situation you experience in small amounts when flying or driving around really tall mountains.

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

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

Hearing crackling inside of your ears is pretty uncommon in a day-to-day situation, so you might be understandably curious where that comes from. The sound is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. Usually, air moving around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Neutralizing Ear Pressure

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

  • Frenzel Maneuver: If nothing else works, try this. Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and make “k” sounds with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (If you’re having trouble forcing a yawn, just imagine someone else yawning and you’ll probably catch a yawn yourself.)
  • 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 might help.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: If you’re still having trouble, try this: after you pinch your nose and shut your mouth, try blowing out without letting any air escape. 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 equalized when the muscles used to swallow are triggered. This, by the way, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum on an airplane; the chewing causes you to swallow, and swallowing is what forces the ears to equalize.

Devices And Medications

There are medications and devices that are made to address ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, and also the extent of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will do the job in some cases. In other instances, that might mean a nasal decongestant. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

If, however, you’re finding that that experience of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because hearing loss can begin this way.

 

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