Ear Crackling: What’s That Strange Noise in My Ear?

Published on May 06, 2021, by

Alicia Schultz

Are your ears making odd sounds that remind you of Rice Krispies with milk poured over them? If so, you might be experiencing what’s known as ear crackling.

While the occasional crackle sound isn’t anything to worry about, it’s normal to feel distressed or anxious if you experience it persistently. Sometimes the crackling can last for a long time or appear with other symptoms — and that may be a sign to ask your doctor about it.

Below, we’ll cover what happens when your ears crackle, causes of ear crackling, home remedies, and signs that you should talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

What Happens When Your Ears Crackle?

Eustachian tubes are tiny tunnels in your middle ear that equalize air pressure and clear secretions. And when air passes through these tubes, unusual noises can occur. 

When this tiny part of your ear opens to allow airflow, it’s common to hear a “crackle” or a popping sound. Most of the time, the noise is short-lived and nothing to fret over.

But when your Eustachian tubes aren’t functioning correctly, you may experience excessive popping, crackling, or other kinds of sounds. These sensations arise as the air adjusts between your outer and inner ear. And if you experience these noises regularly, it’s worth going to the doctor to have your ears checked out.

What Causes Ear Crackling?

ear crackling: woman holding her ear

Ear crackling can show up on its own or along with other symptoms such as ringing, ear congestion, whooshing, or popping.

In many instances, improperly functioning Eustachian tubes are the culprit behind the crackly sounds in your ear. But depending on your symptoms, the noise may have other underlying causes.

Earwax Buildup

Earwax buildup is one of the most common causes of ear crackling. Many people think of this substance as “gross” or “dirty,” but it’s actually a protective mechanism for our bodies. Nonetheless, it can cause problems when it builds up in your ear canals or covers your eardrums.

Objects like headphones, earplugs, cotton swabs — and even hearing aids — can cause earwax buildup. Buildup can lead to symptoms like:

  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness
  • Hearing loss
  • Ear crackling

Overall, earwax buildup can be an unpleasant experience, and you should contact your doctor if your symptoms are bothering you. A professional can extract the wax for you or recommend products that can remove impacted earwax safely and effectively.

Allergies, Colds, and Sinus Infections

For many people, colds, allergies, and sinus infections can cause congestion in the ears. This congestion can prompt a blockage in your middle ear, near your Eustachian tubes.

If fluid builds up from infections or allergies, you may experience ear crackling. On top of that, you could also encounter symptoms like:

  • Ear pain
  • Muffled hearing due to congestion
  • A feeling of fullness in your ears

The good news is that hearing issues associated with colds or sinus infections usually go away on their own. But if your ear troubles stick around for more than a few days, it’s a good idea to give your doctor a call.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD)

A variety of different conditions can cause Eustachian tube dysfunction, and it’s a common cause of ear crackling or popping.

ETD happens when your Eustachian tubes cannot equalize air pressure in the ears efficiently. This problem could be due to infections, allergies, or even a change in altitude.

Aside from ear crackling, symptoms of ETD include:

  • Fullness in your ears or a “plugged” sensation
  • Ear ringing
  • Pain 
  • Problems with hearing

Most of the time, this condition works itself out in a few days with the help of home remedies or over-the-counter medicine. But if it persists, you should consider seeing a specialist for treatment, as long-term ETD can contribute to otitis media or even eardrum damage.

Middle Ear Myoclonus (MEM)

Middle ear myoclonus is a rare form of tinnitus caused by the abnormal movement of two middle ear muscles: the tensor tympani and stapedius muscles.

Many people who suffer from this condition report hearing a clicking, buzzing, throbbing, or crackling sound in their ears. And these noises can all happen as a result of spasming muscles.

The causes behind MEM need more research, but it’s thought that booming noises, such as gunshots, or even stress can be contributing factors.

If you believe you may be experiencing MEM, the best thing you can do is see a hearing specialist. They can recommend certain medications or other forms of treatment to help calm the spasms.

Home Remedies for Ear Crackling

girl holding her ear

If the root cause of your ear crackling isn’t anything serious, the right at-home remedy could be just what you need to get relief. 

Here are some of the simplest methods to help you get rid of that pesky ear crackling.

Pop Your Ears

“Popping” is a technique that’s ordinarily used when ears feel plugged, but it may also be worth a try for ear crackling.

An easy way to pop your ears is to yawn. When you yawn, your Eustachian tubes open up, allowing more airflow in and out of the ears. And if the crackling is due to imbalanced air pressure, yawning can put an end to your symptoms.

If yawning doesn’t work, try:

  • Chewing gum or swallowing
  • Plugging your nose and mouth while gently exhaling as if you’re blowing your nose

Earwax Removal

Like we mentioned earlier, earwax buildup is a common cause of ear crackling. With that said, cleaning the wax out of your ear could offer relief from those bothersome sensations.

To remove earwax at home safely and effectively, don’t reach for the Q-tips. Instead, ask your doctor for recommendations on mineral oil or over-the-counter ear drops.

Over-the-Counter Products for Allergies and Infections

If an allergy or infection is the root cause of your symptoms, OTC products like antihistamines, decongestants, or NSAIDs may help reduce swelling and congestion.

When Should You See Your Doctor for Ear Crackling?

ear crackling: doctor examining the ear of a woman

If the crackling persists or you experience additional symptoms, you should see a hearing specialist to ensure nothing about your ear health flies under the radar.

With that in mind, here are some signs that you should seek medical treatment for ear crackling:

  • The crackling makes it difficult to hear.
  • You have persistent or returning symptoms.
  • You find ear discharge that contains blood or pus.
  • You’re experiencing signs of ear infection, such as fever or pain.

The bottom line is that there’s a lot that can happen in your ears. They’re complex pieces of your anatomy with a lot of moving parts. And when home remedies don’t help your symptoms, a doctor or hearing specialist is the best person to help you tackle it.

Stay On Top Of Your Ear Health

Crackling sensations in your ear can be concerning, but they usually aren’t anything to worry about. However, when you experience multiple symptoms or the crackling lasts for a long time, it’s a good idea to get your ear health checked. 

A hearing specialist or doctor can help you identify and treat the root causes of ear crackling, along with anything else that’s going on.

Your hearing is key in your quality of life, and it’s essential to take care of your ears. That’s why FreeHearingTest.org offers a free phone hearing screening test that only takes five minutes to complete.

Beyond that, you can also take a free online hearing test offered by MDHearingAid. All you need is a pair of headphones and eight minutes to complete it.

Alicia Schultz

Freelance Writer

Alicia Schultz is a Minnesota-based freelance health writer, coffee-lover, and wellness enthusiast. Much of her work is geared toward spreading knowledge that can positively impact the world. When she’s not writing, you can find her in the gym, hanging out with her family, or exploring somewhere new with her dog, Bonzo.