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What to Know About Crackling in Your Ear

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 30, 2021

Crackling in your ear is an annoying sound that may remind you of a fresh bowl of a certain puffed rice cereal. It can be a symptom of normal seasonal allergies. It may also be a sign of something more serious. 

Several conditions can cause crackling in your ears. Here’s what you need to know about how it can affect your health.

Causes of Crackling in Ears

Your ears are complicated. They have many small muscles, bones, and nerves that work together to translate soundwaves into something that your brain understands. 

Because of that, there are multiple reasons you might be hearing crackling in your ears. Here are the most common reasons you might notice crackling noises.

Earwax. The simplest reason for crackling noises in your ears is earwax. Too much earwax buildup in your ear canal may make “crackling” noises as you move your jaw. This may happen naturally. It can also be caused by using cotton swabs to clean your ear.

Clogged eustachian tubes. You have tiny eustachian tubes that connect your ears and your sinuses. They help keep the fluid and pressure in your inner and middle ear at the right level.

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Your eustachian tubes may not be able to open or close properly when you have allergies, a cold, sinus infections, or polyps or tumors in your nose. This causes ear popping or crackling sounds.

Middle ear infections.  ‌Children are typically more likely to have middle ear infections than adults. A middle ear infection is also called “acute otitis media.” It happens when your eustachian tubes are blocked and can’t drain fluid. That fluid can build up and become infected. This leads to crackling sounds in the ear. Other, more obvious symptoms include:

  • Ear pain and pressure
  • Headaches
  • ‌Trouble hearing from an ear
  • ‌Fluid draining from an ear
  • ‌Fever

Middle ear myoclonus. Also called MEM, middle ear myoclonus is a type of tinnitus. MEM is different from most types of tinnitus. It’s caused by a spasm in the tiny muscles in your ear.

Either your stapedius or your tensor tympani muscle will shake. This causes your eardrum to vibrate. You hear a crackling, buzzing, or clicking noise as a result.

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Temporomandibular joint problems. Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the connection between your jaw and the rest of your head. It’s next to your ears. A problem with your TMJ can cause you to hear strange noises.

You may have a TMJ disorder if you have crackling in your ears along with stiffness or pain in your jaw. There could be nothing wrong with your ears.

Treating Ear Crackling

How you treat your crackling ears depends on what’s causing the problem. Your doctor can help you identify why your ears are crackling and offer an effective treatment method.

Many cases of crackling ears will resolve on their own with time. You probably have clogged eustachian tubes if the sound shows up during a cold or with allergies. Using an over-the-counter decongestant can help unclog your ears while you wait for your body to recover.

Your ears could be crackling because of too much earwax. You can use earwax softening kits or have a healthcare professional clean your ear canals for you. Never try to put anything in your ear canals. You may damage your eardrum.

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Ear infections may require more serious treatment. These infections can lead to permanent hearing loss if they aren’t treated. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms if you have ear pain or a fever. They will examine your ears. They may prescribe you an antibiotic if it looks like you have a bacterial infection.

If you have TMJ issues, your doctor will focus on treating your joint. They may prescribe muscle relaxants to relieve joint pain and stiffness. They may recommend physical therapy or TMJ surgery if that doesn’t work.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

Crackling in your ears is not usually dangerous unless you also have ear pain or a fever. You only need to ask your doctor for their advice if the noise bothers you or lasts a long time.

You should reach out for medical advice if you experience pain, pressure, headaches, or fever in combination with the crackling sound. These can all be signs of more serious problems like ear infections. Untreated ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Clinical Otolaryngology: “Eustachian tube dysfunction: consensus statement on definition, types, clinical presentation and diagnosis.”

‌ENThealth: “Earwax (Cerumen Impaction).”

frontiers in Neuroscience: “Impact of Temporomandibular Joint Complaints on Tinnitus-Related Distress.”

MAYO CLINIC: “Ear infection (middle ear),” “TMJ disorders.”

Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements: “Middle Ear Myoclonus: Two Informative Cases and a Systematic Discussion of Myogenic Tinnitus.”

‌University of Rochester Medical Center: “Anatomy and Physiology of the Ear.”

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