Man touching ear in response to crackling noises in his ear.

Do you ever hear noises that appear to come from nowhere, such as crackling, buzzing or thumping? If you wear hearing aids, it can mean that they require adjustment or aren’t fitted properly. But if you don’t wear hearing aids the noises are originating from inside your ear. You don’t have to panic. Even though we usually think of our ears with respect to what we see on the outside, there’s a lot more than what you see. Here are some of the more common sounds you may hear inside your ears, and what they may mean is going on. You should talk with a hearing specialist if any of these are lowering your quality of life or are painful and persistent, though most are short-term and harmless.

Crackling or Popping

You may hear a crackling or popping if the pressure in your ear changes, perhaps from a change in altitude or from going underwater or even from yawning. These noises are caused by a small part of your ear called the eustachian tube. The crackling sound happens when these mucus-lined passageways open up, letting air and fluid to circulate and relieving the pressure in your ears. It’s an automatic process, but sometimes, like if you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, your tubes can actually get gummed up. In serious cases, when antibiotics or decongestants don’t provide relief, a blockage can call for surgical intervention. You probably should see a hearing professional if you feel pressure or persistent pain.

Buzzing or Ringing is it Tinnitus?

It might not be your ears at all if you have hearing aids, as previously mentioned. If you’re not using hearing aids, earwax could be your issue. Itchiness or possibly ear infections make sense when it comes to earwax, and it’s not unexpected that it could make hearing difficult, but how could it cause these noises? The ringing or buzzing is produced when the wax is pushing against the eardrum and suppressing its movement. The good news is, it’s easily solved: You can have the extra wax removed professionally. (Don’t try to do this by yourself!) Intense, persistent buzzing or ringing is called tinnitus. There are a number of kinds of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus isn’t itself a disorder or disease; it’s a symptom that indicates something else is going on with your health. While it could be as straightforward as the buildup of wax, tinnitus is also related to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Tinnitus can be relieved by managing the root health issue; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This sound is caused by our own body and is much less commonplace. Have you ever observed how in some cases, if you have a really big yawn, you hear a low rumbling? It’s the sound of little muscles in your ears which contract in order to provide damage control on sounds you make: They turn down the volume of chewing, yawning, even your own voice! We’re not claiming you chew too loudly, it’s just that those noises are so close to your ears that without these muscles, the volume level would be damaging. (And since you can’t stop speaking or chewing, we’ll stay with the muscles, thanks!) These muscles can be controlled by certain people, although it’s very rare, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to produce that rumble at will.

Thumping or Pulsing

If you sometimes feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat in your ears, you’re probably right. The ears have some of the bodies biggest veins running near them, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether from that big job interview or a difficult workout, your ears will pick up the sound of your pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus, and when you go to see a hearing professional, unlike other types of tinnitus, they will be able to hear it as well. If you’re experiencing pulsatile tinnitus but you haven’t worked out recently, you need to see a specialist because that’s not common. Like other sorts of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease; there are most likely health problems if it persists. But if you just had a good workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate goes back to normal.

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