How to Pop Your Ears

Man making his ears pop on an airplane.

Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where your ears suddenly feel plugged? Your neighbor probably suggested chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t recognize why. If your ears feel clogged, here are a few tricks to make your ears pop.

Pressure And Your Ears

Your ears, as it so happens, do an incredibly good job at controlling pressure. Owing to a beneficial little piece of anatomy called Eustachian tubes, the pressure of the environment is able to be regulated, adjusted, and equalized inside of your ears. Normally.

Irregularities in air pressure can cause problems in circumstances where your Eustachian tubes are not adjusting properly. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup behind your ears, you might begin suffering from something called barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful feeling in the ears caused by pressure differential. This is the same thing you feel in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.

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

Where’s That Crackling Originating From?

Hearing crackling in your ears is rather unusual in an everyday setting, so you may be understandably curious where that comes from. The crackling sound is frequently compared to the sound of “Rice Krispies”. Normally, air going around obstructions of the eustachian tubes is the cause of this crackling. The cause of those blockages can range from congestion to Eustachian tube failure to unregulated changes in air pressure.

Equalizing Ear Pressure

Usually, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (especially if you’re on a plane). In that circumstance, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:

  • Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this tactic. With your mouth closed and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. You can also try clicking to see if that helps.
  • Swallow: The muscles that trigger when swallowing will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This, incidentally, is also the reason why you’re told to chew gum when flying; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
  • 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.)
  • Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just an elaborate way to swallow. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), close your mouth, and swallow. If you take water in your mouth (which will help you keep your mouth closed) it could be helpful.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but rather than swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). In theory, the air you try to blow out should move through your eustachian tubes and neutralize the pressure.

Devices And Medications

There are devices and medications that are designed to deal with ear pressure if none of these maneuvers work. Whether these techniques or medications are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, in addition to the degree of your symptoms.

Special earplugs will do the job in some situations. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. It all depends on your situation.

What’s The Trick?

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

But you should schedule an appointment to see us if you can’t shake that feeling of blockage in your ear. Because hearing loss can begin this way.


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.