Crackling in the ear is an annoying sound. The good news is that it’s often harmless. Unfortunately, though, it could also signal an underlying issue.
Let’s look at some of the most common causes, potential home remedies, and when to call the doctor.
Causes of the Crackling in the Ears
There are multiple reasons why you could be hearing those crackling sounds in your ears. However, the most common causes are as follows;
1. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
The Eustachian tube is a narrow passageway that connects the middle ear and the throat. Each ear has one such tube. The primary function of the Eustachian tube is to prevent pressure from building up in the ear. Maintaining proper pressure keeps the eardrum in the desired shape.
Typically the Eustachian tubes remain closed and only open up when you yawn. However, the tubes might become blocked due to seasonal allergies, sinus infections, and common cold infections. When this happens, you might experience Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD), characterized by muffled hearing and crackling in the ear, among other symptoms.
2. Impacted earwax
The crackling sounds you’re hearing may also be a result of compacted earwax. The ear canal secretes wax to protect the structures of the inner year from germs. Wax is also critical in preventing foreign particles from reaching the inner ear.
Under normal circumstances, the wax moves in and out of the year freely and uninterrupted. Unfortunately, sometimes the free flow of wax into and out of the year is interrupted. This can occur due to items placed inside the ear, such as earplugs and cotton swabs. When this happens, you may unknowingly experience a wax blockage. The buildup and impaction of wax can cause itching, coughing, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and, yes, a crackling sound.
3. Acute Otitis Media
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. “Media” actually means middle, while “otitis” generally refers to ear infections. Acute otitis media (AOM) refers to severe infection of the middle ear. It occurs when the area behind the eardrum becomes inflamed or infected. Common causes include allergies, a cold, the flu, a sinus infection, and infected adenoids.
AOM can cause Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) if fluid accumulates in the tubes, blocking the Eustachian channel. Additionally, AOM can cause poor ventilation in the middle ear, resulting in crackling sounds.
4. Middle Ear Myoclonus (MEM)
Middle ear myoclonus is a rare type of tinnitus caused by spasms of the ear’s stapedius or tensor tympani muscles. These two muscles are tasked with transmitting vibrations from the eardrums and bones in the middle ear to the inner ear.
The specific causes of MEM are unknown even today. A few studies suggest that it’s related to acoustic injuries and other tremors and spasms in the ear. However, what’s not in question is that the condition can cause buzzing or crackling in the ear.
5. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders
The temporomandibular joint connects your jawbone to the skull. There’s one on each side of the head, located just in front of the ears. The TMJ works like a hinge, allowing the jaw to move back and forth freely. It can also slide about to help the jaw achieve its purpose. Disc cartilage found between the two bones ensure smooth movement at the joint.
Malfunction in the TMJ can therefore cause a few issues around the ear because of the proximity. If the injured or damage to the TMJ or erosion of the cartilage causes friction, the resulting sounds will likely be sensed in the ear.
What Can You Do About the Crackling Sounds?
If the crackling isn’t severe, home remedies can do the trick. Begin by popping your ears to help equalize the pressure in the middle year. This trick often works if the crackling is caused by swallowing, chewing, or yawning. Other solutions that may work are;
- Nasal irrigation
- Earwax removal
- Over-the-counter drugs
When to See the Doctor
You want to see the doctor if the symptoms are severe, persistent, and the crackling interferes with your day-to-day life. You should also see the doctor if you find signs of ear infection, such as ear discharge that contains pus or blood.
The doctor will begin by examining the affected ear to assess the eardrum movement and your hearing. A CT scan and MRI may also be needed.
After the exam, the doctor will, in most cases, prescribe antibiotics, earwax removal by a specialist, and possibly placement of ear tubes in your ears to equalize the pressure in the middle ear and drain out fluid in the Eustachian tube.