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?
As a physician, I can tell you people complain of this symptom a lot. When it’s loud and persistent, it can be quite distressing to them.
The Most Common 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 you may have heard that you should chomp on gum when a plane is landing. The Eustachian tube also drains mucus 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.
If you have Eustachian tube dysfunction, you may have other symptoms as well. For example, your ears may feel full or “stopped up,” and you may feel off-balance and have muffled hearing. When you blow their nose, you may hear a popping sound as the inflamed Eustachian tubes pop open. Some people even experience tinnitus or ringing in the ears.
Another Common Cause of Crackling Ears
Another cause of crackling ears is an accumulation of ear wax. The ear is an amazing organ that is self-cleaning and self-maintaining. However, sometimes earwax can build up and cause a crackling sound in your ear. When earwax accumulates, it can dry out and harden, making it more likely to crackle when you move your jaw or touch your ear.
If you think you have too much earwax, you can try using an earwax removal kit. But if the crackling sound persists, or if you experience any pain, discharge, or bleeding, it is important to see a doctor to rule out any other potential problems.
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 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 the inflamed Eustachian tubes quickly.
Some people have anatomical 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.
If It Persists
If crackling ears persists, make an appointment with your primary care physician. They can evaluate the problem. If they feel you need a further workout, they can refer you to an ear nose and throat doctor (ENT) to ensure you don’t have something in your ear canal or something else causing an obstruction, like a polyp.
- Merck Manual, Eighteenth edition. 2006.
- "Eustachian Tube Dysfunction | Johns Hopkins Medicine." https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/eustachian-tube-dysfunction.
- "Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: Causes, Symptoms and FDA Advice." 23 Jun. 2022, https://familydoctor.org/condition/eustachian-tube-dysfunction/.
- Hamrang-Yousefi S, Ng J, Andaloro C. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction. [Updated 2022 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555908/
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.