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What Causes Different Ear Noises

Do you ever hear funny noises inside your ear? Maybe a crackling noise, or a sudden popping. Are your ears squealing and squeaking? Do you hear a clicking sound you just can’t seem to get rid of?

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Sometimes these ear noises can be pleasant, like when your ears finally “pop” in an airplane, and sometimes they can be downright annoying. These noises might seem strange, but fortunately, there are explanations for each sound we hear. We are here to shed some light on those mysterious ear noises and the science behind them.

Wax Worries

Many people in America suffer the annoyance of too much earwax. If you have this problem, you know that a buildup of earwax can cause earaches, itchiness, and decreased hearing.


Why You Hear Ringing and Buzzing Sounds

In some cases, too much earwax can even cause odd noises in your ear, like a ringing or buzzing noise. This is especially true if the wax is touching your eardrum, which creates pressure and changes how the eardrum vibrates. This is a form of tinnitus, and can be treated by a doctor who can remove the excess wax.

Tube Troubles

The Eustachian tube is a small passageway from your inner ear to the back of your nose and plays an important part in the hearing process. Every time you swallow, yawn, or blow your nose, the Eustachian tube opens and allows air to pass from the middle of your ear to the back of your nose.

This process equalizes the pressure in our ears, and prevents the eardrum from bulging in or out too much. If this process isn’t working properly, you are experiencing

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction—something many people will experience in their lifetime. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction can be caused by large adenoids, allergies, or a cold.


Why You Hear Cracking and Popping Noises

This dysfunction can cause crackling or popping sounds, sometimes referred to as “bubble popping noises” in our ears. The tube is lined with moist mucosa, and inflamed Eustachian tubes often get sticky, which causes the crackling and popping noises when the tubes are moving around. If the inflammation is serious, it can be easily treated with steroid nasal sprays.

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Muscle Madness

Did you know you have several tiny muscles in your ears? One of the muscles is called the tensor tympani muscle and serves many functions. This muscle reacts to loud, sudden sounds, and reduce the volume of these sounds to protect your inner ear from noise damage.


Why You Hear Rumbling Sounds

The tensor tympani also reduces the sound of your own voice and sounds caused by chewing food, so these nearby noises don’t cause damage.

A small amount of the population can actually control this muscle at will, and create a low rumbling sound in their ear—similar to the sound that is sometimes produced when you yawn deeply—by tensing the tensor tympani muscle. See if you can do it!

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Thumping In Your Ear

If you’ve ever experienced a thumping sound inside your ears, you’re not alone. This thumping noise is called pulsatile tinnitus, and you may notice that the pulse matches your heartbeat. There are several different causes for this thumping ear noise.


Why You Hear Thumping Sounds in Your Ear

Change in blood flow is the most common cause; blood flowing more quickly or more turbulently than normal can cause thumping noises. Exercise, pregnancy, and overactive thyroids can all cause these blood flow changes.

Most of the time this thumping noise is normal and does not require treatment, but if it is often and bothersome, you should report it to your doctor.

Our ears are always working, making tiny movements even when we can’t feel them. Most ear noises are harmless and don’t indicate any health issues. However, if any of these ear noises lead to pain or are distracting you from normal life, be sure to speak with a doctor about treatment!

Sources: Fauquier ENTAmerican Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck SurgeryWikipediaCenter for Hearing Loss HelpMDHealth

Written by Elena McPhillips, Updated in 2022 by Kim Smith