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

Do you ever hear crackling, buzzing, or thumping noises that seem to come from nowhere? If you use hearing aids, it may mean that they have to be adjusted or aren’t fitted properly. But if you don’t use hearing aids the sounds are coming from inside your ear. But don’t stress. Our ears are a lot more complex than most of us may think. Here are some of the more common noises you may hear in your ears, and what they could indicate is happening. You should schedule a consultation with a hearing specialist if any of these are lessening your quality of life or are painful and chronic, though the majority are brief and harmless.

Crackling or Popping

When there’s a pressure change in your ears, whether from altitude, going underwater or just yawning, you may hear popping or crackling sounds. These sounds are caused by a tiny part of your ear called the eustachian tube. When the mucus-lined passageway opens to allow fluid and air to flow, 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 literally get gummed up. Surgery is sometimes needed in severe situations when the blockage isn’t improved by antibiotics or decongestants. You probably should see a specialist if you feel pressure or persistent pain.

Ringing or Buzzing is it Tinnitus?

It may not be your ears at all if you have hearing aids, as previously mentioned. If you’re not wearing hearing aids, earwax might be the problem. It seems logical that excessive wax may make it tough to hear, and cause itchiness or even infections, but how can it make a sound? The buzzing or ringing is caused when the wax is pressing on the eardrum and suppressing its motion. But don’t worry, the extra wax can be removed professionally. (This is not a DIY procedure!) Tinnitus is the name for lasting buzzing or ringing. Even buzzing from excessive earwax is a type of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of some sort of health issue and isn’t itself a disorder or disease. While it may be as straightforward as the buildup of wax, tinnitus is also related to afflictions like anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and dealing with the root health issue can help lessen tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s much less common, and if you can hear it, you’re the actually the one causing the sound to happen! Have you ever noticed how sometimes, 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 offer damage control on sounds you make: They lessen the volume of yawning, chewing, even your own voice! We’re not claiming you chew too noisily, it’s just that those noises are so close to your ears that without these muscles, the volume level would be damaging. (And since never speaking or chewing isn’t a good option, we’ll stay with the muscles, thanks!) It’s extremely rare, but some people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to create that rumble whenever they want.

Pulsing or Thumping

If you sometimes feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat in your ears, you’re most likely right. Some of the body’s largest veins are very close to your ears, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether from that important job interview or a tough workout, your ears will pick up the sound of your pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus, and unlike other forms of tinnitus, it’s one that not only you hear, if you go to a hearing professional, he or she will be able to hear it as well. While it’s absolutely normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re living with on a daily basis, it’s a practical decision to see a doctor. Like other sorts of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease; there are likely health problems if it persists. But if you just had a hard workout, you should stop hearing it as soon as your heart rate comes back to normal.

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