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

Ever hear thumping, buzzing, or crackling sounds that seem to come from nowhere? If you use hearing aids, it may mean that they require adjustment or aren’t fitted properly. But it might also be possible that, if you don’t wear hearing aids, the sounds may well be coming from inside your ears. There’s no need to panic. Even though we primarily think of our ears in terms of what they look like on the outside, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Here are some of the more common noises you may hear inside your ears, and what they may indicate is happening. You should schedule a consultation with a hearing specialist if any of these are lowering your quality of life or are irritating and persistent, even though most are short-term and harmless.

Crackling or Popping

When the pressure in your ears changes, whether from altitude, going underwater or simply yawning, you may hear popping or crackling sounds. These sounds are caused by a tiny part of your ear called the eustachian tube. When the mucus-lined passageway opens allowing air and fluid to pass, these crackling sounds are produced. Sometimes this automatic process is interrupted by inflammation brought about by an ear infection or a cold or allergies which gum the ears up. In serious cases, where antibiotics or decongestants don’t provide relief, a blockage might call for surgical intervention. You probably should consult a specialist if you feel pressure or persistent pain.

Ringing or Buzzing is it Tinnitus?

Once again, if you use hearing aids, you could hear these kinds of sounds if they aren’t sitting properly within your ears, the volume is too high, or your batteries are running low. If you aren’t wearing hearing aids, earwax might be the issue. Itchiness or even ear infections make sense with earwax, and it’s not unusual that it could make hearing difficult, but how could it cause these noises? If wax is touching your eardrum, it can restrict the eardrum’s ability to function, that’s what causes the ringing or buzzing. The good news is, it’s easily solved: You can have the extra wax removed professionally. (This is not a DIY job!) Intense, prolonged buzzing or ringing is known as tinnitus. Even buzzing from excessive earwax counts as a form of tinnitus. Tinnitus isn’t itself a disorder or disease; it’s a symptom that indicates something else is going on with your health. Besides the buildup of wax, tinnitus can also be associated with depression and anxiety. Diagnosing and treating the root health problem can help relieve tinnitus; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s much less prevalent, and if you can hear it, you’re the actually the one making the noises to happen! Do you know that rumble you can sometimes hear when you have a really big yawn? It’s the sound of little muscles in your ears contracting in order to provide damage control for sounds you create: They reduce the volume of yawning, chewing, even your own voice! We’re not suggesting you chew too loudly, it’s just that those noises are so close to your ears that without these muscles, the noise level would be harmful. (And since you can’t stop chewing or speaking, we’ll stick with the muscles, thanks!) It’s very unusual, but certain people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they can create that rumble whenever they want.

Thumping or Pulsing

If you occasionally feel like you’re hearing your heartbeat in your ears, you’re probably right. The ears have a few of the bodies biggest veins running near them, and if you have an elevated heart rate, whether it’s from that important job interview or a hard workout, your ears will pick up the sound of your pulse. Pulsatile tinnitus is the term for this, and when you go to see a hearing specialist, unlike other forms of tinnitus, they will be capable of hearing it as well. While it’s completely normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re living with on a daily basis, it’s a wise move to see a doctor. Like other forms of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom not a disease; there are most likely health problems if it persists. But if you just had a good workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate returns to normal.