What to do if you’ve been experiencing a strange popping or crackling noise in your ears.
Medically reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson and words by Rhalou Allerhand
Perplexed by a funny popping noise in your ears? If your ears feel strangely full and you start to hear a crackling or popping sound, don’t be alarmed!
The unusual noise in your ears is most likely a common condition referred to as eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD), which is the result of a cough or the common cold. Blocked eustachian tubes can cause pain, hearing difficulties, and a feeling of fullness in the ears.
We speak to Consultant ENT and Skull Base Surgeon Peter Monksfield from Spire Parkway Hospital, Solihull, about diagnosing ETD and how to treat crackling ears:
What is eustachian tube dysfunction?
There is a fine tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat called the Eustachian tube, and this can become blocked by mucus when you have a cold. This in turn leads to a pressure build-up in the ear, which causes a popping sound when you talk, swallow or blow your nose.
‘The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear (space behind the ear drum) with the nose,’ explains Monksfield. ‘Its function is to equalise the pressure in the middle ear and allow air to enter. To do this it periodically opens usually when swallowing, yawning or blowing the nose.’
The unusual noise in your ears is most likely a common condition referred to as eustachian tube dysfunction.
‘It causes a pop or crack in the ear when it does this and this is normal,’ he adds. ‘Dysfunction occurs when the tube does not open due to inflammation or disease causing a fullness in the ear, often reduced hearing and sometimes pain and tinnitus.’
Sometimes people suffering from ETD experience crackling noises in their ears or even deafness. The deafness is usually temporary and is as a result of the ear drum becoming stiff as a result of increased pressure. The ear drum is therefore unable to move when a sound wave hits it and so sound becomes muffled.
What causes crackling ears?
ETD is a relatively common condition and depending on the cause, it may resolve on its own or through simple at-home treatment measures.
‘Eustachian tube dysfunction can be caused by enlarged adenoids in young children,’ explains Monksfield. ‘It can be caused by acute or chronic rhinosinusitis and can occur with or shortly after an upper respiratory tract infection or a cold.’
What is the crackling noise?
The popping or crackling sound is due to a pressure equalisation and movement of the ear drum, and is usually nothing to worry about. ‘It is normal for this to happen, says Monksfield.
‘It can affect your hearing and most often this recovers over a few days or weeks after a cold,’ he adds.
The popping or crackling sound is due to a pressure equalisation and movement of the ear drum.
‘It can be present for many months though. It can last for months or even years and for a very small proportion of people there may be permanent damage to the ear drum… Excessive cracking accompanied by hearing your voice loud in the ear or hearing your breathing suggests another condition called Patulous Eustachian tube.’
How is ETD treated?
ETD is usually easily treatable with over-the-counter remedies. ‘Nasal decongestants can help for the acute phase in the first week,’ says Monksfield.
‘In the longer term a nasal steroid spray may help. For those with a related hearing loss usually due to a middle ear effusion or “glue ear”, a ventilation tube or grommet can be inserted to help air to get into the middle ear which in turn helps to dry up the fluid.’
Crackling ears treatment tips
Monksfield recommends the following treatments for eustachian tube dysfunction:
✔️ Try to pop the ears with a forced exhalation with closed mouth and nostrils.
✔️ Take a short course of nasal decongestant for up to one week.
✔️ Try a longer course of nasal steroid spray.
✔️ Speak to your GP about grommet insertion. Grommets are tiny tubes that can be inserted into the eardrums to treat certain conditions.
✔️ Your doctor might also consider endoscopic balloon dilatation. This procedure involves having a balloon inserted into your nose and inflated in order to open up the eustachian tube and resolve clogged ears.
⚠️ If your symptoms persist for more than a fe