Do your ears crackle? This is a common complaint among people of all ages, especially children. Find out what causes this problem and how to get relief.
Snap, crackle and pop. Do your ears crackle like a bowl of Rice Krispies, especially when you swallow? Crackling ears are a common problem that can involve one of both ears. What causes crackling ears, and should you be concerned if you have this symptom?
The Main Cause of Ear Crackling
The most common cause of crackling ears is Eustachian tube dysfunction. The Eustachian tube is a long, thin tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat. This tube opens and closes to equalize pressure between the middle ear and the outside environment, which is important when you’re descending a mountain or a passenger on an airplane that’s landing.
Normally, the Eustachian tubes are closed, but when you swallow, cough, sneeze or yawn, the Eustachian tubes open to equalize pressure between the middle ear and the outside environment. Chewing gum causes the Eustachian tube to open, which is why people are advised to chomp on gum when a plane is landing. The Eustachian tube also drains mucous from the middle ear.
A Dysfunctional Eustachian Tube Can Cause Crackling Ears
If you have a cold or chronic allergies the fluid in the inner ear may become thickened due to inflammation, and it won’t drain out of the middle ear as easily. The Eustachian tube can become blocked with this sticky fluid, and ear crackling can result from movement of this thick fluid within the middle ear canal.
People with Eustachian tube dysfunction often have other symptoms as well. Their ears may a sense of fullness, and they may feel off-balance and have muffled hearing. When they blow their nose, they can hear a popping sound as the inflamed Eustachian tubes pop open. Some people even experience tinnitus or ringing in the ears.
How to Deal with Crackling Ears
A crackling ear can be annoying, and the problem may resolve on its own, but it’s best not to fly until it does. Decongestants and steroid nasal sprays are helpful for some people, and inhaling warm steam helps drain the fluid from the blocked tubes. Treating chronic allergies also helps to prevent and treat Eustachian tube problems.
One way to get temporary relief from crackling ears is to pinch your nostrils closed, and exhale forcefully with your mouth shut. This helps to open up the inflamed Eustachian tubes quickly.
Some people have anatomic problems such as enlarged adenoids that prevent proper fluid drainage from the middle ear, which can cause chronic ear crackling and Eustachian tube dysfunction. In this case, it’s best to consult with an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Merck Manual, Eighteenth edition. 2006.