Find out what could be causing that crack, pop, buzz, or ringing in your ears.

Learn more about common ear noises and what causes them here.Confused by a strange noise in your ears? Whether it’s crackling, popping, ringing, or something else, ear noises can be caused by tinnitus, a health condition, or illnesses like the common cold. Learn more about a few common ear noises below and what could be causing them:

  • Crackling
  • Popping
  • Buzzing or ringing in the ears

Of course, your doctor or audiologist is the best source for any questions you may have. This information is provided for your background only and is not meant to replace talking with your doctor.

Keep reading to learn more about the explanation behind these common ear noises.

Crackling
If you experience a strange crackling sound in one or both of your ears, you may be experiencing something called eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD). Often caused by a cough or the common cold, ETD results in blocked eustachian tubes in the ear that may bring pain, hearing difficulty, crackling noises, and a sensation of fullness. The crackling sound comes from pressure equalization and movement of the eardrum.

Because the common cold often causes ETD, it usually resolves on its own in a few days or weeks or through simple at-home remedies. Talk to your health care professional about your symptoms and they will be able help you find the correct treatment. In rare instances, ETD – and the crackling sound it can create – can linger for months or longer. In this case, treatment prescribed by a hearing health professional is required to prevent long-term damage to the ear drum. If you’re looking for a doctor, read our article on how to choose the right audiologist for you.

Popping
A popping noise usually indicates one (or two) clogged ear(s). When this stuffy sensation happens, the Eustachian tube opens to allow air to pass from the middle of your ear to the back of the nose. This process equalizes the pressure in the ears and may cause a popping sensation.

Popping ear noises from stuffy ears are usually caused by:

  • Too much earwax in the Eustachian tube
  • Water in your ears
  • A change in altitude (popping commonly happens after a plane takes off or during the landing process because of the rapidly changing air pressure)
  • Sinus infections
  • Middle ear infections
  • Allergies

If earwax is to blame for popping, schedule an appointment with your audiologist to clean your ears and remove the buildup properly. Do not use cotton swabs, hairpins, or other sharp materials to try to remove the buildup on your own.  Learn more about how to safely clean your ears on our blog.

If your ears are uncomfortably muffled or clogged, popping them may help. Generally, popping your ears requires little more than moving your mouth muscles. You can try techniques such as swallowing, yawning, and applying a warm washcloth to your affected ear to encourage the opening of the Eustachian tube. If these techniques don’t work for you, visit your hearing health professional.

Ringing or buzzing
Ringing in the ears is often attributed to tinnitus, which results in the sensation of hearing sound when no external sound is present. Tinnitus affects about 15 to 20 percent of people, making it one of the most common hearing health concerns. Aside from ringing in the ears, tinnitus can also create phantom sounds of buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, and humming.

There are two kinds of tinnitus:

  • Subjective tinnitus – caused by ear problems in your outer, middle, or inner ear, only you can hear the sounds
  • Objective tinnitus – a rare form of tinnitus in which your doctor can hear the sound when he or she does an examination. Typically caused by a blood vessel problem, middle ear bone condition, or muscle contractions

If tinnitus is affecting your daily life or if it develops suddenly without an apparent cause, make an appointment to see your hearing health professional for customized care.

Chances are, you’ll experience one or more of these common ear noises throughout your lifetime. This exploration of the noises in this post can help you address them and know when to seek consultation with your doctor or audiologist. Find more helpful advice for your hearing health on our blog.

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