A sharp sense of hearing has always had its evolutionary importance; a prey senses its predator’s slightest movement to make a quick run, or a predator trying to remain as quiet as possible to escape its prey’s sharp hearing. While humans may not have such fine hearing, we are receptive to a particular frequency range, and our auditory senses play a significant role in our lives.
We face many issues with our ears, ranging from frequent wax buildup or ringing in the ear to problems that may cause partial or complete deafness. One of the common experiences we have all been through is crackling in ear, the reason for which is unknown to many. Here, we shall see why you experience crackling in ear, its causes, and home remedies to alleviate it.
What Is Crackling in Ear?
Crackling in ear can be best described as the sound right after you pour milk into a bowl of Rice Krispies. Crackling in ear is a familiar sensation, just like that ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound you experience occasionally. There are many reasons you may experience crackling in the ear, and some of these are more severe issues that may require immediate attention.
Why Does Crackling in Ear Happen?
Crackling in ear could be due to a form of tinnitus, or several other possible reasons, some of which are discussed here.
Buildup of Earwax
Earwax serves the purpose of lubricating the ear canal to protect it from infections. While it is expelled from the ear naturally, sometimes it may get stuck and cause a blockage. The blockage may also be induced, usually due to probing with a cotton swab. Earwax buildup may be caused when the glands in your outer ear canal produce more wax than required.
Crackling in ear could be a symptom of earwax buildup, along with the following additional symptoms –
- A feeling of fullness or being plugged in your ears
- Discomfort and pain
- Partial loss of hearing
Middle Ear Myoclonus (MEM)
Your ear contains muscles that transmit vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. These muscles, the tensor tympani or stapedius, may spasm, causing a rare type of tinnitus called MEM. Middle ear myoclonus may be congenital or the cause of acoustic injury. The stapedius muscle may spasm to produce crackling in your ear, while the tensor tympani has a clicking sound when it spasms.
The crackling due to MEM may be irregular or rhythmic. For some, it may be continuous and can happen in any one of the ears or both.
Meniere’s disease is commonly found in people belonging to the age group of 20-50. It is characterized by dizziness, a sense of fullness in your ear, and loss of hearing. It affects the inner ear.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
The Eustachian tube is a small tube that serves as the connection between the back of your nose and upper throat and the middle portion of your ear. They are responsible for equalizing the pressure in your ears with the surrounding pressure. Other functions of the Eustachian tube include draining fluid from the middle ear and preventing any infection in that region.
Your Eustachian tubes are generally closed but open up when you chew, swallow, or yawn. The most noticeable instance of your Eustachian tube opening is the pop in your ear when you are on a plane. A crackling sound can be heard when the Eustachian tube doesn’t open or close properly, and this is the Eustachian tube dysfunction.
This dysfunction may be caused due to a common cold, sinusitis, enlarged adenoids or tonsils, or allergies. The presence of cigarette smoke or other irritants in the air can also lead to this issue.
Look out for these other common symptoms of Eustachian tube dysfunction –
- Pain in ear
- Muffled hearing, loss of hearing
- A sense of congestion or fullness in the ear
- Vertigo or dizziness
Children tend to exhibit additional symptoms such as fever, irritability, lower appetite, and headaches.
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders
The TMJ is a hinge joint that attaches your skull and jawbone. Smooth jaw movement is ensured by a disk of cartilage between the two bones. TMJ disorders are caused due to the erosion of, injury, or damage to this cartilage, and a popping or crackling in ear can be heard when you open your mouth.
Before jumping to conclusions, cross-check with the following additional symptoms experienced by those with TMJ disorders –
- Pain in the ear, jaw, or at the temporomandibular joint
- Limited jaw movement
- Jaw gets locked
- Muscles of the jaw feel stiff.
Apart from these, crackling in ear can be caused by any foreign body in your ear. A foreign body that enters the middle ear can rub against the eardrum to produce a crackling sound. There have been instances where an insect was trapped in the ear canal and caused discomfort. Noise trauma is also a reason for crackling in the ear due to the damage caused by loud noises to your eardrum.
Another possible cause for crackling in ear is the use of ototoxic drugs. These drugs can damage the auditory nerve when misused, leading to hearing loss, tinnitus, or popping or crackling noise.
Tips to Prevent Crackling in Ear
Prevention is always better than cure, and most causes for crackling in ear can be prevented by being a little cautious. A few tips to avoid crackling in ear are mentioned below:
Avoid Using Cotton Swabs
Cotton swabs became popular as an implement to clear earwax at home. While it is still sold in the market, most doctors advise avoiding using them in adults and children. Using a cotton swab pushes most of the earwax deeper into the ear canal, causing congestion and blockage of the path.
Try Not to Expose Yourself to Loud Noises
Ever wondered why vacation retreats are situated away from cities, in the peace and tranquility of the countryside? Or why so many people opt to live in the suburbs once they settle in? A city is a loud place, teeming with life and throbbing with noises. It is easy to get drowned away in a club with loud music blaring on, but it is not necessarily the best choice for your health.
Exposure to loud noises for prolonged periods can lead to conditions like tinnitus. It is always best to use hearing protection when traveling to a noisier environment.
Stay Away From Environmental Irritants
Environmental irritants such as tobacco smoke and polluted air can cause Eustachian tube dysfunction. You do not have to smoke tobacco to be vulnerable to its effects; being exposed to tobacco smoke and allergens can potentially lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction.
Prevention for Respiratory Illnesses
While this may sound like a little tip, it is always safer to stay healthy, as even the common cold or flu can contribute to Eustachian tube dysfunction. Wash your hands with soap and water and avoid sharing items with a sick person or others to stay safe.
Crackling in ear is always a symptom of an underlying issue, so it is necessary to get it treated immediately. There are various treatment options for crackling in ear, and a brief outlook of these is given below. It is always best to consult a doctor before using any medication or administering self-treatment.
The information mentioned is only for giving you a good idea about various treatment options available to you. You could always try out some of the home remedies for problems such as earwax buildup.
If you are suffering from ear infection, it is advised to consult a doctor. Treatment depends on the type of infection and the organism causing it. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for a full recovery, but there must be full cooperation from your side by taking care of certain aspects.
One of these is to avoid getting the ear wet and removing any discharge. Avoid wearing earrings, earplugs, or hearing aids until the infection has been cured. There are always home remedies for an ear infection that is just starting, such as using baby oil or olive oil, which is mentioned below.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
The treatment for Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) varies based on the severity of the condition. Home remedies include forced exhalation, a saline nasal spray, and other movements such as swallowing or chewing gum. You may also be prescribed with antihistamines, decongestants, or antibiotics.
TMJ disorders are accompanied by pain and discomfort, which is why you may be prescribed with muscle relaxants or tricyclic antidepressants to relieve the pain. For those with TMJ, an oral splint or mouth guard is inserted over the teeth to alleviate the condition. Other methods include using ice and moist heat, along with strengthening exercises to get the best results.
Other than these, there are a few ways to maintain a healthy ear and avoid that crackling sound in your ear. One of these is to use steam to clear up your ear canal. Take a bowl of steaming water, place your head over it and cover with a towel to unblock clogged ears.
If you face ear crackling often, then it might be indicating the need for some lifestyle changes. The key is to keep yourself hydrated with eight glasses of water per day, along with the recommended amounts of calcium and magnesium through your diet.
A diet high in cholesterol may also contribute to recurring instances of ear crackling. Along with a healthy diet, try to get enough sleep and regular exercise. All of these contribute to making a stress-free, healthier person.
Home Remedies for Crackling in Ear
Pop Your Ears
You can pop your ears to unclog them and equalize the pressure in the middle ear. This can be done by swallowing, chewing, or yawning. You can also pop your ears by forced exhalation. This is done by closing your nostrils and mouth and trying to exhale through your ears by exerting force.
Earwax removal is useful for removing excess earwax generated and unclogging the ear canal. This can be done by using over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops, mineral oil, or hydrogen peroxide.
Warm water is the safest option for clearing up a clogged ear. Squeeze warm water into the clogged ear using a syringe. Drain the water after almost 10 minutes, which will contain the excess earwax.
Olive oil is one of the best remedies for earwax buildups. Warm-up some olive oil and pour two or three drops into the clogged ear using a dropper. Leave it in for 10 minutes, which will soften the earwax, which can then be wiped off using a tissue paper or a soft piece of cloth.
Allergies are often the leading cause of ear infections or Eustachian tube dysfunction. The best way is to figure out the allergens causing you irritation and take anti-allergens or try preventing exposure to irritants.
TMJ disorders are accompanied by discomfort and a certain amount of pain. To gain relief from these, you could do specific exercises or try other methods like applying an ice pack over the area or providing gentle massages.
This is a way of removing excess mucus from your sinuses and nose with a saltwater rinse. This can help clear up clogged sinuses that contribute to Eustachian tube dysfunction.
Medications: Over-The-Counter Products
If you’re experiencing pain or inflammation, you can try NSAIDs. For congestion, you can use antihistamines or decongestants.
When Should You Consult a Doctor?
While for some individuals, crackling in ear is an occasional or rare occurrence, for others, it may interfere profoundly in their daily lives. So, when should you go to a doctor?
These are a few situations indicating that a visit to a hearing specialist is overdue for your condition:
- Crackling in ear interferes with daily life and makes hearing difficult.
- An ear infection that lasts for more than a day needs to be remedied. The signs of an ear infection include fever or pain.
- Persistent or recurring symptoms
- Ear discharge contains blood or pus.
Crackling in ear is not an uncommon occurrence. However, when the noise in your ears starts affecting the quality of life, you need to get it treated. With these home remedies and possible underlying conditions, you might have got a rough idea of what it’s all about. Before opting for drugs, it is best to consult a doctor and take a more holistic approach to the problem.