There are so many situations you have experienced in life that made your ears pop. And there are as many questions about this mysterious and strange process.
You may be flying in a plane. Being on a train that is going through a mountain. Diving underwater or even flying into outer space. Any of these scenarios can cause your ears to pop. But popping is actually the end of the story.
At the beginning, you start feeling some discomfort in your ear, as if it is getting swelled. As a consequence, your hearing ability worsens. Not that you have ever read about it, but it seems natural for us to start swallowing. Surprisingly, it helps. But why? The key to the answer is simple.
With that said, let’s have a look at the ear anatomy first. Because that is the only way we would be able to understand the process.
Structure of The Ear
Our ear is a complex organ that consists of three different ‘ears’. The external or outer, middle, and inner one.
The outer ear is the part that we can see. It is a skin-covered cartilage that continues into the external auditory canal. That one ends at the eardrum. The middle ear is a chamber of tiny bones. It also has a special tube that connects the ear to the throat. It is called ‘the eustachian tube’ and it is normally closed. The inner ear is one snail-shaped cochlea.
Our outer ear catches the sound. After that it travels to the eardrum, making it vibrate. The vibration then transfers to the bones in the middle ear that hand it over to the cochlea. The snail-shaped organ’s duty is to transform the sound vibration into a nerve impulse. After that, it sends the impulse to the brain.
Usually, the pressure inside all the ear parts is the same. But if the pressure of your environment changes, the pressure inside your external ear also transforms. While the pressure in the other parts of your ear stays the same.
This difference causes the eardrum to inflate. That is the thing that causes all the inconveniences we experience. Yawning or swallowing makes the eustachian tube open. That is what equalizes the pressure between the inside of the ear and the environment.
How to Make Your Ears Pop?
The majority of times a simple swallow or yawn will do the job and be enough to balance the pressure. But this is not the case if you decided to fly whilst you are ill, for example.
Your eustachian tube can be swollen, not letting the air move freely. Some people may try to close their nose and start blowing hard. Sometimes it might help, but be careful! Such an intense blow may tear the eardrum! Moreover, it may cause all the mucus from your throat to appear in your inner year. Now that would be a problem! There is a better and safer way to sort this out.
Close your nose and mouth and turn your head to the right. Your chin should be touching your shoulder at this point. Start swallowing until your left ear pops. It may take a minute, but eventually, it will help. Repeat the same process for the other ear.
The Valsalva Maneuver
Let’s go the extra mile and get acquainted with the Valsalva maneuver. Take a deep breath, close your mouth and nose, and then try to breathe out. This maneuver increases the blood pressure in many parts of our body. It can be performed against a closed glottis, for example.
With its help, you can check for pinched nerves and heart murmurs. Some even recommend the usage of the maneuver during sprints as a speed accelerator.
Some spacesuits contain a special sponge called ‘the Valsalva device’. It enables the astronaut to block his nose to perform the maneuver. This helps equalize the pressure while wearing a suit.
Never thought that making your ears pop was such a big deal? Well, now you know.
Featured image by OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology, CC by 4.0