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

Do you ever hear sounds that seem to come out of nowhere, like buzzing, thumping, or crackling? If you have hearing aids, it may mean that they have to be adjusted or aren’t properly fitted. But if you don’t use hearing aids the sounds are coming from inside your ear. But don’t freak out. Even though we commonly think of our ears in terms of what they look like on the outside, there’s much more than what you see. Different noises you may be hearing in your ears could mean different things. Here are several of the most typical. You should talk with a hearing specialist if any of these are lowering your quality of life or are painful and chronic, though most are brief and harmless.

Popping or Crackling

You may hear a popping or crackling when the pressure in your ear changes, perhaps from an altitude change or from going underwater or even from a yawn. The eustachian tube, a very small part of your ear, is where these sounds are produced. When the mucus-lined passageway opens allowing air and fluid to pass, these crackling sounds are produced. It’s an automatic process, but on occasion, like if you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, your tubes can actually get gummed up. Surgery is sometimes needed in serious situations when the blockage isn’t helped by antibiotics or decongestants. You should probably see a specialist if you have pressure or prolonged pain.

Ringing or Buzzing is it Tinnitus?

It might not be your ears at all if you have hearing aids, as mentioned before. If you’re not wearing hearing aids, earwax may be your issue. Itchiness or even ear infections make sense with earwax, and it’s not surprising that it could make hearing difficult, but how does it create these sounds? If wax is touching your eardrum, it can inhibit the eardrum’s ability to function, that’s what produces the buzzing or ringing. The good news is, it’s easily solved: You can have the extra wax removed professionally. (This is not a DIY procedure!) Tinnitus is the name for lasting ringing or buzzing. Even noise from too much earwax counts as a form of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of some kind of health problem and isn’t itself a disease or disorder. While it could be as simple as wax buildup, tinnitus is also associated with afflictions like anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and treating the underlying health problem can help relieve tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This sound is one we cause ourself and is much less commonplace. Have you ever observed how occasionally, if you have a really big yawn, you can hear a low rumble? It’s the sound of tiny muscles in your ears contracting in order to provide damage control on sounds you create: They reduce the volume of chewing, yawning, even your own voice! Activities, including yawning and chewing, are so close to your ears that although they are not really loud, they can still harming your hearing. (But chewing and talking as well as yawning are not something we can stop doing, it’s lucky we have these little muscles.) It’s extremely rare, but some people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they can produce that rumble whenever they want.

Pulsing or Thumping

Your probably not far of the mark if you at times think you hear a heartbeat in your ears. The ears have some of the bodies largest veins running near them, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether it’s from a hard workout or an important job interview, the sound of your pulse will be picked up by your ears. Pulsatile tinnitus is the name for this, and when you go to see a hearing specialist, unlike other kinds of tinnitus, they will be able to hear it as well. If you’re dealing with pulsatile tinnitus but your pulse is not racing, you need to consult a professional because that’s not normal. Like other kinds of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease; there are most likely health problems if it persists. Because your heart rate should return to normal and you should stop hearing it after your workout when your heart rate returns to normal.

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