Ears help us hear all the beautiful sounds of the world—but what happens when our ears start making their own sounds?

Snaps, crackles, and pops may be welcome in your breakfast cereal, but it’s disconcerting when they occur in your ear canal; however, these are common sounds for everyone’s ears. If you’ve ever experienced ringing, buzzing, snapping, crackling, or popping in your ears, this article can help you understand what these sounds are, what might be causing them, and what you can do to find relief.

Popping

You’re probably familiar with popping sounds in your ear. Pops commonly occur when you yawn or experience a change in pressure, such as when changing altitudes on an airplane. Additionally, stuffy sinuses can cause pressure changes in your head, so colds or seasonal allergies can also lead to popping. If you experience a “bubble popping” sound in your ears outside of these circumstances, schedule a visit with a hearing specialist to make certain there aren’t any underlying issues.

One issue that can cause unexplained popping is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD), a condition in which your eustachian tubes become inflamed or clogged, making it difficult to clear the pressure in your ears and head. In addition to popping sounds, ETD can cause a few other symptoms, including:

  • Fullness or congestion in the ear.
  • Ear Pain.
  • Muffled hearing or hearing loss.
  • Dizziness or vertigo.

If you think you might be dealing with ETD, consider seeing a doctor.

How to Safely Pop Your Ears

When ear pressure builds up and causes discomfort, there are a few safe ways to pop your ears and equalize the pressure:

  • Swallow or yawn — The act of swallowing or yawning helps to open the eustachian tubes, releasing pressure.
  • Valsalva maneuver — If yawning or swallowing doesn’t help, try plugging your nostrils and forcefully breathing out through your nose. The blocked nostrils will send air back into the eustachian tubes, helping clear things up.
  • Nasal decongestants — Seasonal allergies or the common cold can cause sinus pressure that also affects your ears. Taking over-the-counter nasal decongestants helps clear your sinuses and can possibly relieve pressure in the eustachian tubes.

These simple remedies will create the same common popping sound in your ears, but they will also help ease any pressure or stuffiness you might be dealing with.

Crackling

Hearing a crackling in your ear may make it seem like someone is wrinkling a plastic wrapper right next to you. As with popping, crackling sounds can result from ETD. They can also be caused by a variety of other factors, including:

  • Acute otitis media — An infection in the middle ear, typically treated with antibiotics or over-the-counter pain medication.
  • Earwax buildup — When earwax causes a blockage in the ear canal, it can lead to popping and crackling sounds in the ear.
  • Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJ) — TMJ affects the joints in the jaw closest to the ear. As a result, you may hear crackling or popping sounds when opening and closing your mouth.

Buzzing or Ringing

If you hear a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears, you’re likely experiencing tinnitus. Typically, tinnitus comes from an underlying condition, but it can also be attributed to age-related hearing loss, ear injuries, problems in the circulatory system, or other factors.

Symptoms of tinnitus may appear as a variety of sounds in the ear, such as:

  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Humming
  • Ringing

Causes of Tinnitus

While tinnitus can be caused by a variety of different things, it is usually a symptom of other health conditions. You may be experiencing tinnitus for the following reasons:

  • Age-related hearing loss — As we age, it becomes harder to hear high-frequency sounds, sometimes leading to a ringing or buzzing noise when we’re in the presence of higher pitches.
  • Loud noises — Prolonged and/or repeated exposure to loud noises can lead to hearing loss in one or both ears, often resulting in tinnitus.
  • Certain medications — Some medications—including aspirin, diuretics, antidepressants, cancer drugs, and certain antibiotics—can trigger a ringing or buzzing sound in your ear. Medication-induced tinnitus may clear up once you stop taking the medication that caused it. To cover all your bases, make sure you’re aware of all your medications and their side effects.

Tinnitus can be tricky; sometimes, there isn’t a direct, tangible cause. We can hear ringing in our ears as a result of stress, which ultimately can lead to more stress as we deal with it throughout the course of day-to-day life. Similarly, low levels of physical activity can cause issues in the circulatory system, which sometimes results in tinnitus. These are just more reasons why it’s important to manage our stress and anxiety levels while maintaining a good routine of movement and exercise.

If you hear a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears for any reason, speak with a doctor as soon as possible to identify potential causes and create a plan to help you resolve the issue.

Types of Tinnitus

As we’ve already discussed, many factors can cause ringing or buzzing sounds in your ears. There are also different types of tinnitus that people can experience.

Subjective Tinnitus

This is the most common form of tinnitus. Usually caused by exposure to loud noise, subjective tinnitus can develop and disappear suddenly, lasting anywhere from 3 to 12 months. Sometimes, it never goes away.

Neurological Tinnitus

Neurological tinnitus is usually caused by different health disorders that affect auditory functions, such as Meniere’s disease. This form of tinnitus will likely last for as long as you deal with its related health issue; however, it may become a lifelong problem.

Somatic Tinnitus

Somatic tinnitus is related to the sensory system, specifically physical movement and touch. When moving your neck, you may experience muscle spasms that trigger tinnitus sounds in your ear.

Objective Tinnitus

This is the rarest form of tinnitus. As the only ear sound that can be heard by other people—usually a doctor with a stethoscope—objective tinnitus is most often caused by involuntary muscle contractions or vascular deformities. While others may last for life, objective tinnitus is the only type of tinnitus that can be permanently fixed.

Your Hearing Future

Don’t let hearing problems negatively impact your life.

Now that you’ve learned what might cause popping, crackling, ringing, or buzzing sounds in the ear, you’re ready to work with your audiologist to resolve or improve your issues should they arise—and if you experience hearing loss, CaptionCall can help. When you qualify, we’ll send you the cutting-edge CaptionCall telephone, with our top-notch, no-cost captioning service that makes it much easier to connect with others.