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Bubble-popping noise in ear: Causes, treatment & prevention

Last update on Feb, 26, 2024

Let’s face it: Sometimes our bodies just make strange noises. Whether it’s a crack in the knuckles, a pop in the joints or a click in the jaw, simply moving our bodies can create some unique sounds. The same goes for our ears—it’s not uncommon to hear buzzing or ringing sounds, especially if you live with tinnitus. But have you ever noticed a bubble-popping noise in your ear? You’re not alone—it’s something many people experience.

What is the bubble-popping noise in my ear?

Have you ever heard or felt what could be described as a “Rice Krispie”-like sound or sensation in your ears? Having a bubble-popping noise in your ear can have different causes, so it’s important to learn the possibilities to find solutions to address them.

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Why do I hear bubbles in my ear?

The answer to that question can only be found in the details of your unique situation. Let’s look at several of the common acute (short-term) conditions that might be contributing to the bubbles in your ears

Located in each ear, the Eustachian tubes are small, thin tubes that connect your middle ear to the back of your nose and upper throat. Their primary function is to ensure that the pressure in your middle ear is the same as the pressure in your surroundings, allowing the eardrum to properly vibrate and transmit sound. The Eustachian tubes also protect the sensitive middle and inner ear by draining fluid, preventing infection and protecting the ear from damaging noises.

Most of the time, these tubes are closed and only open when you move your jaw, such as when yawning, swallowing or chewing. However, your Eustachian tubes can become blocked or clogged if they don’t open or close correctly, leading to a popping sound in the ears. You may also experience:

Blocked Eustachian tubes, also known as Eustachian tube dysfunction, can be caused by physical or environmental factors including the common cold, acid reflux, sinus infections, allergies, air pollutants, changes in pressure and ototoxic medications.

Earwax—also known as cerumen—is a naturally produced material made up of secretions of the sweat glands, skin cells and other microscopic debris. Far from being unhygienic, earwax performs several key functions in maintaining ear health. Its oily, waxy texture:

  • creates an effective moisturizer to keep the ear canal clean and lubricated,
  • prevents bacteria and fungi from infecting the ear,
  • acts as a protective barrier against unwanted dirt, dust or grime.

Earwax typically moves out of the ear on its own, but it can become lodged in the ear canal, creating a blockage or even covering the eardrum. This disrupts the flow of sound to the ear and can lead to the a popping or bubbling noise. Along with the bubble-popping sound, symptoms of clogged ears from earwax buildup can include:

Experiencing tinnitus, or the perception of a ringing in the ears when no sound is present, is a common—and often frustrating—hearing sensation.

While most cases of tinnitus are symptoms of a larger health condition, some have more direct causes. Middle ear myoclonus (MEM) is a rare type of tinnitus caused by involuntary movements of the tensor tympani and stapedius. These middle ear muscles transmit vibrations from the eardrum and the bones of the middle ear to the inner ear to be processed as sound.

In particular, Stapedius muscle spasms can create a bubble-popping or crackling sound in the ears. The pitch, intensity, regularity, rhythm and which ear experiences the sound varies from person to person.

MEM’s causes are still unknown. It may be a result of a hereditary condition, an injury to the inner ear or be related to other facial muscle spasms.

Middle ear infections (also known as acute otitis media) that affect the Eustachian tubes can also be the cause of bubble-popping noises in the ear. A middle ear infection occurs when the Eustachian tubes become swollen and blocked, leading to a buildup of mucus. The accumulated mucus can become infected with bacteria, which spreads and creates an ear infection bubbling sound in the ears.

Enlarged adenoids, or oversized soft tissue at the back of the throat, can also create Eustachian tube blockages, especially for children. Regardless of age, those experiencing popping in the ear because of middle ear infections may also experience earaches, a high temperature and slight hearing loss as a result of fluid buildup.

Because the Eustachian tubes connects the middle ear to the nose and upper throat, ailments like allergies and sinus issues can in turn lead to blocked Eustachian tubes and a popping sound in the ears.

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is a nasal allergic response to a seasonal or environmental allergen. These responses may include sneezing, an itchy ear canal or a stuffy or runny nose. Not only does the allergen create buildup in your nose, but it also creates a block in the Eustachian tube, producing a clogged feeling and a bubble-popping noise in the ears.

Similarly, sinus infections (or sinusitis) also involve inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses. However, unlike allergic rhinitis, which only occurs upon interaction with a specific allergen, sinusitis is a very common condition with numerous contributing factors. This includes structural issues in the nose like a deviated septum, upper respiratory tract infections or unhealthy environmental factors such as smoke and mold exposure.

No matter how it occurs, inflamed sinuses and buildup prevent the Eustachian tubes from properly draining mucus from the nose and sinuses, creating a sensation of blocked ears and sinuses, contributing to that bubbly noise.

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Diseases and conditions that cause bubble-popping noise in the ear

If the information above helped you understand the complexity of the question “Why do I hear bubbles in my ear?”, you might be on the right track to finding a solution. If your symptoms don’t go away on their own, it’s worth getting checked by a hearing care professional and giving them the details of your situationAside from the acute situations mentioned above, there are also longer-term (chronic) medical conditions that could cause the bubble-popping noise.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a small joint located on both sides of the face, connecting the jawbone to the skull. Think of the TMJ as a sliding hinge, allowing your jaw to move up, down and side to side for motions like speaking, chewing and yawning. TMJ disorders—also referred to as TMD—occur when this joint comes out of its socket, causing these everyday movements to become painful.

TMD also refers to conditions that affect your jaw bones and the surrounding muscles and ligaments, as well as headaches that might come from the joint’s unnatural movement. The exact cause of TMJ disorder varies from person to person and could be attributed to factors including genetics, jaw injuries, arthritis or bruxism (grinding or clenching teeth).

Not only does TMJ disorder bring stiffness and pain in the jaw, but it can also lead to ear problems. The TMJ’s location on the face places it directly in front of the ears, near internal structures like the Eustachian tube. The proximity of these two important parts means that pain or inflammation in the TMJ puts pressure on the ear, disrupting the normal opening and closing of the Eustachian tube and causing a bubble-popping sound in the ear.

The inner ear itself can also be the source of any bubble-popping noises you may be hearing. Méniére’s Disease, also known as Méniére’s Ear Disease, is an inner ear condition characterized by vertigo and hearing loss. Those living with the disease often experience all four of the major symptoms at once: regular and unexpected dizzy spells, hearing loss, tinnitus and a feeling of fullness in the ear.

While the exact cause of the condition has not yet been determined, most medical professionals believe that Méniére’s stems from an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the inner ear. This can affect the Eustachian tubes’ ability to properly drain fluid, contributing to that feeling of aural fullness and bubble-popping noises in the ears.

Prevention tips

Despite the numerous causes behind the bubble-popping sound in your ears, there is good news: There are many ways to address, prevent and manage this noise. Here are some simple first steps for how to stop ear noise:

Allergic reactions, especially occurring in the nose and sinuses, can easily create blockages in your Eustachian tubes producing bubble-popping. By avoiding allergens, you can limit both an allergic reaction and the discomfort of the bubbling noise in your ears.

If you have seasonal allergies that are difficult to avoid, reduce your time spent outdoors when pollen counts are high and keep your windows closed to prevent allergens from entering your home. These small measures can be helpful when you’re trying to figure out how to stop the ear noise associated with allergic reactions.

Stress and anxiety can manifest in several physical symptoms, including ear issues. When the body tenses, it can affect normal blood flow to the structures of the inner ear. When blood flow changes, the Eustachian tubes also can’t appropriately regulate air pressure in the ears. This can lead to pressure and a feeling of fullness, as well as a bubble-popping noises in the ears.

At the same time, other stress and anxiety-related behaviors, such as teeth clenching or grinding, can add even more ear pressure and discomfort. Finding methods to manage stress and anxiety is vital for your overall well-being and preventing ear pressure and popping sounds. Strategies for managing anxiety include:

●            Deep breathing exercises

●            Gentle jaw exercises or stretches

●            Mindfulness and meditation

●            Therapy or counseling

●            Anxiety medication

Discuss your symptoms with a medical professional or therapist to determine what strategies will best address your feelings of anxiety and stress.

Over time, constant exposure to noise above 85 decibels can contribute to premature hearing loss. The louder the sound is, and the longer the exposure to the noise, the more damaging it can be to hearing health. Sustained exposure to loud noises can also exacerbate the perception of tinnitus, making noises like hissing, buzzing or bubbling seem more pronounced.

If you’re experiencing a bubble-popping sound in your ears because of earwax, put down the cotton swabs. When used to clean out excessive earwax, cotton swabs often do more harm than good. Swabs can push earwax further into the canal, causing a blockage that’s difficult to remove. Cotton swabs can also damage eardrums and lead to painful ear infections. Use swabs only for cleaning around the ears and avoid inserting them into the ear canal. Find more ear-cleaning tips here.
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How to get a diagnosis

If you regularly experience unwanted sounds in your ears, a diagnosis for bubble-popping noise in your ears can provide helpful direction in determining treatment options. To be diagnosed, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination of your ears, throat and jaw. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may order specialized tests, such as:

  • A tympanometry, or middle ear test, to measure the movement of the middle ear in response to changes in pressure,
  • A hearing exam
  • Imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI to detect any internal issues.

Discuss your symptoms honestly and completely with your medical team so that you can find the best solution to your discomfort.

Home remedies for bubble-popping noises in ears

If the bubble-popping in your ears isn’t disrupting your daily life and isn’t paired with other symptoms, home remedies can provide some quick, easy relief. Explore these strategies for how to stop ear noise, unclog your ears and alleviate the popping in your ears

Popping your ears can be a simple, yet effective way to unclog your Eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure in your middle ear. However, it’s important to pop your ears correctly to avoid damaging your eardrums. Simply swallowing, yawning or chewing can be quick fixes to open your jaw and equalize pressure.

If your ears still won’t pop, the Valsalva Maneuver is an effective option for alleviating pressure. This series of breathing exercises is commonly used to help balance irregular heartbeats, but the maneuver is also utilized by deep sea divers and those flying on airplanes to relieve stuffy ears. To perform the maneuver:

  • Sit or lie down
  • Inhale deeply
  • Close the mouth and pinch the nose closed
  • Push the breath out against the closed mouth and nose while straining, as though blowing up a balloon
  • Hold for 10-20 seconds
  • Open the mouth, unplug the nose and breathe out

Repeat the maneuver up to three times. If it doesn’t work, speak with your doctor immediately.

Chewing gum forces you to swallow more often, which activates the muscles that control the Eustachian tubes. This strategy is often recommended for alleviating ear pressure while flying in an airplane. 

If allergies or sinusitis are causing inflammation or congestion in the nasal passages, some over-the-counter (OTC) medications can provide welcome relief. Look for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation or antihistamines to reduce congestion, and be sure to review your medications and dosages with your doctor to avoid any potentially harmful interactions. 

Heat can help reduce some of the pain from ear pressure and loosen congestion in the ear. Soak a towel or washcloth in warm water, wring out any excess and hold over the nose for up to 20 minutes. Compresses can be reapplied as many times as necessary throughout the day. 

Also known as nasal irrigation, a sinus flush is the practice of moving a saline solution through the nasal passages. These saltwater rinses can help flush out excess mucus, debris or allergens. To perform a sinus flush:

  • Fill your irrigation device with a saline solution
  • Tilt your head sideways to the right, positioned over a sink or tub
  • Slowly pour or squeeze the solution into your left nostril. The water will come out of the right nostril
  • Gently repeat on the other side
  • Blow your nose to remove any remaining water or mucus

Similar to the use of warm compresses, steam can loosen congestion in the nasal passages and relieve pressure. When performed correctly, steam inhalation can be a simple solution for a blocked ear. To inhale steam:

  • Boil water
  • Pour water into a large bowl and lean over, so the face is positioned above the water
  • Cover the head with a towel and breathe through the nose for two to five minutes

Be sure to not breathe directly over a steam kettle or boiling pot of water, and do not make direct contact with the water to avoid burns. Don’t steam longer than 10-15 minutes at a time. If you use a steam vaporizer, wash it regularly and dry it thoroughly to prevent bacterial or fungal growth.

If the bubble-popping sound in your ear is a result of TMJ, specialized exercises and massages can help ease the pain in the joint and pressure in the Eustachian tubes. Here are several exercises you can perform to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the TMJ:

  • Relaxed jaw exercise: Rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth behind the upper front teeth. Allow the teeth to come apart while relaxing the jaw muscles. Open the mouth to a comfortable place and repeat.
  • Side-to-side jaw movement: Place a tongue depressor between the front teeth. Slowly move the jaw from side to side, holding for two to three seconds at the end of each movement. Repeat 10 times on each side.
  • Chin tucks: Sit or stand with the shoulders back and chest up. Pull the chin straight back and down into the chest, creating a double chin. Hold this position for three seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times. 
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Medical treatments for bubble-popping in ears

If at-home remedies and time don’t alleviate the bubble-popping noise in your ear, treatment might be escalated to a more formal medical strategy to address your symptoms

Your doctor may recommend antibiotics in the case of a bacterial ear infection. Keep in mind that most ear infections are caused by viruses and clear up on their own with time and OTC pain relievers

If allergies are affecting your Eustachian tubes and you are unable to find relief with over-the-counter medications, your doctor might prescribe specifically targeted antihistamines. An antihistamine can act as a decongestant, opening the nasal passages, reducing congestion and easing pressure in the middle ear. 

If cleaning your earwax on your own isn’t cutting it, your primary care physician or an ear, nose and throat specialist can assist in earwax removal. Using specialized instruments like a wax spoon, suction device or ear forceps, your doctor will be able to remove earwax that could be contributing to the pressure and popping in your ear. 

If you have recurrent sinus infections, your doctor may prescribe a stronger decongestant, such as corticosteroids or antibiotics, to address the situation. These medications can help offset some of the pressure in the nasal passages and the Eustachian tubes. 

For children who experience numerous ear infections over a short period or don’t find relief with other medical solutions, doctors may recommend ear tube surgery to address Eustachian tube dysfunction.

In a short surgical procedure, tiny tubes are inserted into the eardrum, keeping open a small hole that allows air in and supports more effective fluid drainage. The tubes eventually fall out on their own, making the procedure an effective tool for children experiencing extreme ear discomfort. 

If your Eustachian tube dysfunction becomes a chronic problem, a balloon Eustachian tube dilation can be a useful treatment.

During this surgical procedure, a doctor will guide a deflated Eustachian tube balloon through the nose to the Eustachian tubes. The balloon is then inflated to open the blocked tube. While the balloon stays inflated for two minutes, the Eustachian tube cartilage is rebuilt and any inflammation is flattened out. The balloon is then removed and the procedure is repeated on the other side. 

To address TMJ disorder directly, your doctor might recommend dental applications or surgery. In many cases, people experiencing jaw pain can find relief from oral splints or mouth guards that prevent muscle tension due to teeth clenching. If these dental approaches don’t work, your care team may turn to one of several different TMJ treatment surgeries to address your symptoms:

  • Arthrocentesis: Fluid injection into the joint to regain range of motion in the jaw
  • Arthroscopy: Opening small holes in the skin above the joint to reshape the joint, inject medication or alleviate swelling
  • Open-joint surgery: Opening an incision over the joint to operate on the joint itself

Regardless of which method is chosen, TMJ treatments can alleviate both the pain in the jaw and lessen the pressure on the middle ear. 

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When to see a doctor

It may be time to see a doctor if you notice that the bubble noises in your ear aren’t going away and you’re experiencing:

  • Symptoms that are disruptive to daily life or make it hard to hear
  • Symptoms that are severe, regular, more intense or recurring
  • Symptoms of an ear infection
  • Ear discharge containing blood or pus
  • Severe ear pain

When to see a hearing specialist

If you’ve noticed that the bubble-popping noise in your ear is making it hard to hear, you can also meet with a hearing specialist to discuss your symptoms. Schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional at Miracle-Ear to get an exam, test your hearing and find a solution for your hearing health.

FAQs about bubble-popping noises in ears

Experiencing a bubble-popping noise in your ear can be a surprising situation, likely leaving you with some questions about how to handle your ear health and find relief. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about this unique condition: 

Pain, discomfort and unwanted sounds in your ears can be addressed first by the at-home remedies and strategies above, including:

  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Nasal flushes
  • Popping the ears
  • Earwax removal
  • TMJ exercises

However, if these remedies don’t work, your condition worsens or you notice new symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.

You may notice that the bubble-popping sound in your ear appears more pronounced at night or when lying down. This occurs because of head position: When the density of air is lower than the fluid buildup in the ears, air bubbles can move around with a head position change, causing a bubbling noise in the ear. You might find relief by elevating the head using pillows or adjusting your position. 

Colds, the flu, sinusitis and allergies can affect one or both Eustachian tubes at a time, preventing full mucus drainage and building pressure in the middle ear. This translates to the feeling of a bubble in one ear. Follow the tips above and speak with your doctor to address the condition, whether you hear it in one ear or both.

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