Articles

Why Do My Ears Pop?


You know that feeling when you’re flying
on an airplane, and your ears feel kind of stuffy? So you yawn really wide, and then there’s
a POP, and that pressure is gone. But sometimes you can also hear a little popping
in your ears when you just swallow normally. It’s the exact same ear anatomy at work,
just keeping your ears healthy. To understand what’s happening, you have
to understand how our ears process sounds. There are three sections that work together:
the outer, middle, and inner ear. The outer ear is the part we can see and decorate
with piercings. It funnels sound waves toward the eardrum, which is basically a thin membrane. The eardrum then vibrates three tiny bones
in the middle ear, which is a small chamber that’s mostly filled with air. It’s connected to the back of your throat
by a eustachian tube, which is what make your ears do the popping thing. These tubes are normally sealed shut, to keep
your middle ears safe from all the junk in the back of your nose and throat. But when you swallow or yawn, these tubes
briefly open, to help drain out any fluid and bring fresh air into the middle ear. Finally, there’s the inner ear, which is
a spiral-shaped cavity filled with fluid that changes the bone vibrations into sound
signals that are sent to the brain. Normally, the air pressure is the same in
both the outer ear and the middle ear, meaning there’s about the same amount of air molecules
bouncing around in each chamber, sealed off from each other by the eardrum. But when you’re flying in an airplane, for
example, the atmosphere around you has fewer molecules. So the air pressure around you, and in your
outer ear, is lower. But the air pressure in your middle ear stays the same. The extra air molecules in your middle ear
push a little more on your eardrum, so the membrane bulges out a little bit, and causes
that uncomfortable stuffy feeling. Your eardrum also can’t transmit sounds
as well, because it’s stretched too much to vibrate normally. So when you chew gum, or swallow really hard,
or yawn, you’re trying to open up your eustachian tubes, so the air in the middle ear can have
the same pressure as the airplane cabin. The rush of air into or out of your middle
ear, and your eardrum adjusting a little bit, is the “pop” you hear. Doctors recommend being careful about holding
your nose and blowing though. Because if you blow too much air through your eustachian
tubes you could tear your eardrum, or just send gross stuff from the back of your throat
into your middle ear. But a really gentle blow or swallow to pop
your ears on an airplane is totally normal, and healthy. And it has nothing to do with popping your
actual eardrum. Because…. that would hurt. Thanks to Patreon Patron Jordan for asking
this question! And thank you to all of our patrons, who keep these answers coming. If
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