Hearing a crackling sound in your ear like rice krispies can make you to ask where the sound is coming from. It is not rare and abnormal to occasionally hear a crackling, popping or buzzing sound in the ear. The crackling sound is like the noise you hear from a bowl of rice krispies makes after you have just poured milk over them. There are many reasons why you hear this sound from your ear. This article will carefully explore these causes, treatments and when to see a doctor.
WHAT CAN CAUSE CRACKLING IN YOUR EAR LIKE RICE KRISPIES?
1. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
The eustachian tube is a small, narrow passageway that joins the middle part of the ear to the back of the nose and upper throat. Each ear has an eustachian tube.
The tube performs functions like:
- Emptying fluid from the middle ear
- Equalizing the pressure in the middle ear with the pressure from the surrounding environment
- Preventing infection in the middle ear
These eustachian tubes are normally closed, they only open when you need to do things like yawning, swallowing or chewing. They may also open when you pop your ears. When the eustachian tubes do not open or close like they do, this leads to eustachian tube dysfunction. Some common causes of eustachian tube blockage can be seasonal allergies, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal tremor and polyps, cleft palate, infections (either sinus or common cold).
This dysfunction leads to you hearing a crackling sound in your ear like rice krispies. According to a study published by the National Institute of Health in 2019, about 4 percent of adults have eustachian tube dysfunction, it is even common in children and those with craniofacial conditions.
Other symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction are:
- Pain in and around the ear
- Muffled hearing
- Itchy ear
- Tickling sensation in the ear
- A feeling like your ear is full
- Acute otitis media
This is an infection that develops in the middle ear, it is common in children than adults. One cause of this infection is eustachian tube dysfunction. When the eustachian tubes are blocked or very narrow, fluid accumulates in the middle ear without being drained mad this leads to infection. The infection causes crackling sound like rice krispies in your ear due to the blocked tubes.
Other symptoms of this infection are:
- Pain in the ear
- Difficulty in hearing
- Fluid draining out from the ear
Children may experience additional symptoms of acute otitis media like:
- Headache and fever
- Reduced appetite
- Crying more than usual and being irritable
- Difficulty in sleeping
2. Buildup of Earwax
Wax are secreted by the ear canal in order to protect the inside and structure of the ears from germs and foreign objects. The ear cleans itself; when you chew and move your jaw, the earwax and dead skin cells are transported from the ear drum to the ear opening where it dries and falls out.
When you put items like earbuds, hearing aids and earplugs in your ear, there may be increase the buildup of earwax. This prevents the natural way the earwax flows out of the ear. Sometimes, earwax can get stuck in the ear canal and cause a blockage. This can happen when you use a cotton swab or any other object to push the ear deeper into the ear.
Other symptoms of earwax buildup are:
- Pain in the ear
- Itching in the ear
- Feeling like your ear is full
- Muffled hearing
- The wax color may change
3. Ménière’s Disease
This is a disease that affects the inner ear, it causes dizziness and may affect one or both ears. Ménière’s disease is common in people aged 40 to 60 although it can affect anyone. The episodes of this disease typically last from 20 minutes up to eight to 12 hours.
Alert from crackling sound like rice krispies, there are other symptoms of Ménière’s disease are:
- Loss of hearing
- Dizziness and attacks like a spinning sensation
- Sensation like fullness in the affected ear
- Ringing, buzzing or roaring sound in the ear
4. Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorders
Your jawbone is connected or attached to your skull through the temporomandibular joint. Each side of your head have one joint located in front of the ear. The joint acts like a hinge that can also perform sliding motions. Temporomandibular joint and muscle (TMJ) disorders are conditions that involves pain and dysfunction in the joints and jaw muscles. There are more than 10 million people in the United States who are affected by this condition.
TMJ disorder is divided into three broad categories which are:
- Myofascial pain – Pain and discomfort in the jaw muscles
- Internal derangement of the joint caused by dislocated jaw, displaced TMJ disc or injury to the lower jaw.
- Inflammation due to arthritis.
TMJ disorder can cause crackling sound in the ear like rice krispies and other symptoms like:
- Severe pain while chewing
- Pain in the jaw
- Stiff jaw
- Limited movement of the jaw
- Severe pain in the ear
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Popping and clicking of the jaw.
4. Middle Ear Myoclonus (MEM)
This is a rare type of tinnitus ( a medical term for noise in the ear ). It occurs due to contraction of specific muscles (stapedius or tensor tympani) in the ear. These muscles are responsible for transmitting vibrations from the eardrum and bones in the middle ear into the inner ear.
The exact cause of this condition is not known but it can be linked to injury, other types of muscle spasms and congenital condition. When the tensor tympani muscle contracts, you may hear a clicking sound.
The pitch of the sound varies from one person to another, the sounds may be:
- In one ear or both
- Come and go or occur continuously
- Be irregular or have rhythmic pattern
TREATMENTS FOR CRACKLING IN YOUR EAR LIKE RICE KRISPIES
If the sound in your ear occurs occasionally, it may not be necessary to look for treatment methods. The type of treatment for the sound depends on the cause.
Some treatment methods include:
- Ear Drop: Ear drops can be used to soften the ear wax and make it easier to be removed.
- Bite Guard: Bite guard is used by those with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder to get relief. Surgery may be used as well but it is not always successful.
- Manual Earwax Removal: In cases where ear drops was not helpful in removing stuck wax, your doctor may use manual nethods to remove them.
- Placement of Ear Tubes: In cases where eustachian tubes are the cause of the crackling sound, a doctor can place tubes in the eardrums to drain fluid and equalize the pressure in the ear with that from the environment. Inserting a balloon catheter in the eardrum can open up the eustachian tubes and treat dysfunction.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics like amoxicillin can be recommended for severe ear infections that last longer than 2–3 days.
HOME REMEDIES FOR CRACKLING IN YOUR EAR LIKE RICE KRISPIES
- Using Over-The-Counter (OTC) Decongestants: Over-the-counter decongestants can be used to reduce mucus and fluid which may be associated with eustachian tube dysfunction. However, it is expected that you use these decongestants for 3 days at most as they may lead to addiction and the congestion coming back.
- Using Nasal Flush: Also known as sinus flush, this involves gently rinsing the nasal passage with saline solution to remove excess mucus from the sinus.
- Treating Allergies: Sometimes, allergies can lead to ear problems and eustachian tube dysfunction. You can stay away from the allergens to avoid having reactions.
- Removing Earwax: You can treat blocked earwax at home to soften the wax. Place a drop of mineral oil not baby oil to soften the earwax and allow it to flow out of the ears naturally.
- Not Using Cotton Swab : Pushing cotton swab deep into the ear can lead to blocked earwax.
- Exercise: There are some exercises that can help treat temporomandibular joint (TMJ), they are done to stretch the soft tissues and muscles, increasing motion. These exercises can be stretching exercises, jaw strengthening and postural exercises.
- Avoiding stress on the jaws and the TMJ: You should reduce your chewing and avoid things like chewing gum.
WHEN TO CONTACT A DOCTOR
In most cases, the crackling sound in your ear like rice krispies do not cause for a long time before it goes away on its own or after home remedies. It may not even need treatment. However, there are symptoms that will need you to see a doctor for diagnosis and full treatment.
- Fever, pain or other signs of ear infections
- Hearing loss
- Fluid draining from the ears
- Other symptoms that keep coming back
- Crackling sound that is severe, occur daily and affect daily activities.
Crackling sound in your ear like rice krispies can be caused by many things including infections, blocked ear canal, eustachian tube dysfunction or even temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. Some crackling sound may go away after home remedies while others may need treatment. If you notice some abnormal symptoms, you should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.