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

Ever hear noises that seem to come from nowhere, like crackling, buzzing or thumping? Perhaps, if you use hearing aids, they might need a fitting or need adjustment. But if you don’t use hearing aids the sounds are coming from inside your ear. But don’t stress. Even though we mostly think of our ears in terms of what they look like on the outside, there’s a lot more than what you see. Here are some of the more common sounds you might hear inside your ears, and what they may mean is happening. Even though most are harmless (and temporary), if any are persistent, painful, or otherwise interfering with your quality of life, it’s a smart strategy to get in touch with a hearing specialist.

Popping or Crackling

When the pressure in your ears changes, whether from altitude, going underwater or just yawning, you may hear crackling or popping sounds. These sounds are caused by a small part of your ear called the eustachian tube. The crackling sound occurs when these mucus-lined passageways open up, letting fluid and air to circulate and equalizing the pressure in your ears. It’s an automatic process, but sometimes, like when you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, your tubes can actually get gummed up. In severe cases, where antibiotics or decongestants don’t help, a blockage could call for surgical treatment. You probably should consult a specialist if you feel pressure or chronic pain.

Could The Buzzing or Ringing be Tinnitus?

It might not be your ears at all if you are wearing hearing aids, as previously mentioned. But if you’re not wearing hearing aids and you’re hearing this type of sound, it could be due to too much earwax. Itchiness or even ear infections make sense with earwax, and it’s not unexpected that it could make hearing challenging, but how could it produce these sounds? The buzzing or ringing is produced when the wax is pushing against the eardrum and suppressing its motion. The good news is, it’s easily solved: You can get the extra wax professionally removed. (This is not a DIY job!) Tinnitus is the name for persistent ringing or buzzing. There are several forms of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus isn’t itself a disorder or disease; it’s a symptom that signifies something else is going on with your health. While it might be as straightforward as wax buildup, tinnitus is also linked to conditions including anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and treating the root health issue can help reduce 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 one making the sound to occur! Have you ever observed how sometimes, if you have a really big yawn, you hear a low rumbling? It’s the sound of little muscles in your ears contracting in order to provide damage control on sounds you make: They reduce the volume of chewing, yawning, even your own voice! Activities, including yawning and chewing, are so close to your ears that even though they are not very loud, they can still be damaging to your ears. (But talking and chewing not to mention yawning are not optional, it’s lucky we have these little muscles.) These muscles can be controlled by some people, though it’s very unusual, they’re called tensor tympani, and they’re able to create that rumble at will.

Thumping or Pulsing

If you occasionally feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat inside your ears, you’re probably right. The ears have a few of the bodies largest veins running very close them, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether it’s from that big job interview or a difficult workout, the sound of your pulse will be detected by your ears. This is called pulsatile tinnitus, and unlike other types of tinnitus, it’s one that not just you hear, if you go to a hearing specialist, they will be able to hear it too. If you’re experiencing pulsatile tinnitus but your pulse is not racing, you need to consult a professional because that’s not common. Like other kinds of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom not a disease; there are 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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