What causes crackling in the ears?

Occasionally it’s not uncommon to hear a strange sound in the ears, like a popping, ringing, or crackling.

Crackling in the ears isn’t normally harmful. However, if it happens frequently it can affect the quality of life of a person and may imply an underlying problem.

Continue reading to learn more about the signs and the crackling remedies in the mouth.

Causes and symptoms

Eustachian tube dysfunction is a possible cause of crackling sounds in the ears.
Eustachian tube dysfunction is a possible cause of crackling sounds in the ears.

Most people experience mild crackling in their ears. For example, pressure in the ears may lead to crackling or other unpleasant effects from altitude changes.

Some other crackling triggers in the ears include:

Eustachian tube dysfunction

The Eustachian tube is a narrow channel, connecting the middle ear with the mouth. Each ear has 1 cable.

These pipes avoid the build up of air pressure and fluid in the ear. Maintaining proper ear pressure prevents the eardrum from mistakenly moving in or out.

The Eustachian tubes usually remain closed, and open only when a individual swallows or yawns. Blocked tubes and those that do not open or close properly can cause dysfunction of the Eustachian tube.

Dysfunction in the eustachian tube is relatively common. It occurs worldwide in about 4 percent of adults.

Other symptoms may include, in addition to crackling in the ears:

In addition to crackling in the ears, some other symptoms may include:

  • itchiness or tickling inside the ear
  • pain in and around the ear
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • muffled hearing

These tubes may become blocked due to:

  • seasonal allergies
  • sinus infections
  • common cold infections

Impacted earwax

Wax is secreted by the ear canal to protect the inner ear structures from germs and other foreign particles. Earwax normally travels by itself out of the ear.

According to the Hearing Loss Association, products inserted in the ears— including earplugs, cotton swabs, and music earbuds— can increase earwax accumulation and eliminate natural wax flow from the ear canal.

As earwax builds up, it may cover the eardrum and produce a crackling sound.

Some symptoms of compromised earwax include:

  • ear pain
  • itching inside the ear
  • coughing
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear

Ménière’s disease

Ménière’s disease affects the inner ear and leads to dizziness. The condition can affect anyone, but it more commonly affects people aged 20–50.

Symptoms of Ménière’s disease may include:

  • dizziness
  • hearing loss
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear

Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders

Temporomandibular joint and muscle (TMJ) disorders involve pain and dysfunction of the jaw joint.

TMJ disorders affect more than 10 million people in the United States. Symptoms of TMJ disorders can include a crackling sound in ears, along with:

  • headaches
  • jaw pain
  • stiffness in the jaw
  • limited movement of the jaw

Diagnosis

A doctor will start by doing a physical exam and taking a medical history to diagnose the cause of crackling in the ears.

During the test the doctor uses an otoscope to look inside the mouth. In some cases, they can make a diagnosis based on the medical history of a individual, and this examination alone.

In other cases, advanced tests— such as hearing tests— can help in assessing a diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment for crackling in the ears is not always sufficient, particularly if this symptom only occurs occasionally.

Options for treatment depend on the underlying cause, and may include:

  • Ear drops: Ear drops may help soften the wax inside the ear for easy removal.
  • Manual removal of earwax: A doctor may use different methods to remove earwax.
  • Placement of ear tubes: A doctor can place tubes in the eardrums to equalize pressure in the ear and drain fluid. In some instances, the insertion of a small balloon catheter opens up the eustachian tubes, treating dysfunction.
  • A bite guard: Bite guards sometimes provide relief for people with TMJ disorders. Surgery for TMJ disorders is a last resort, and it is not always successful.

Home remedies

Home remedies for crackling in the ears include:

  • Using a nasal flush: Using a saltwater flush in the nose can remove excess mucus from the sinuses.
  • Trying over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants: OTC decongestants may help reduce mucus and fluid contributing to problems with the eustachian tubes.
  • Removing earwax: Most earwax blockages are treatable with home remedies that soften the wax. For example, placing a couple of drops of baby oil or mineral oil into the ears can soften hard wax and allow it to flow naturally out of the ear.
  • Treating allergies: Allergies can sometimes lead to problems with the ears and eustachian tubes. Treating these can help.
  • Not using cotton swabs: Pushing a cotton swab too far into the ear can lead to impacted earwax.

When to see a doctor

In the ears cracking doesn’t always require treatment. In many cases these sounds will go away with some home remedies on their own or with others.

For a complete diagnosis and treatment advice, however, people with the following symptoms should talk to a doctor about:

  • crackling sounds that are severe or occur daily
  • signs of an ear infection, such as a fever or pain
  • symptoms that keep coming back
  • fluid draining from the ear
  • hearing loss

Summary

Generally cracking in the ears isn’t harmful if it only occurs once in a while. Those with normal or severe symptoms should however speak for care to a doctor.

Some possible underlying causes include affected earwax, inflammation in the eustachian tube and TMJ disorders.

Many home remedies will reduce the mild symptoms. The medical treatment will help if these don’t work and the crackling continues.

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