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

Ever hear crackling, buzzing, or thumping sounds that appear to come from nowhere? Perhaps, if you use hearing aids, they need a fitting or need adjustment. But if you don’t wear hearing aids the noises are originating from inside your ear. There’s no need to panic. Our ears are a lot more complex than most of us may think. Different sounds you might be hearing in your ears could indicate different things. Here are several of the most common. You should talk with a hearing specialist if any of these are impeding your quality of life or are painful and chronic, although the majority are brief and harmless.

Crackling or Popping

When the pressure in your ears changes, whether from altitude, going underwater or just yawning, you may hear crackling or popping noises. The eustachian tube, a tiny part of your ear, is where these sounds originate. The crackling sound happens when these mucus-lined passageways open up, allowing fluid and air to circulate and relieving the pressure in your ears. It’s an automatic process, but in some cases, like when you have inflammation from allergies, a cold, or an ear infection, the passageway can literally get gummed up. Surgery is sometimes needed in severe situations when the blockage isn’t helped by decongestants or antibiotics. If you’re having lasting ear pain or pressure, you really should consult a specialist.

Could The Buzzing or Ringing be Tinnitus?

It might not be your ears at all if you are wearing hearing aids, as mentioned before. But if you’re not wearing hearing aids and you’re hearing this kind of sound, it could be because of excess earwax. Itchiness or even ear infections make sense when it comes to earwax, and it’s not unexpected that it could make hearing difficult, but how does it create these sounds? If wax is touching your eardrum, it can restrict the eardrum’s ability to function, that’s what produces the ringing or buzzing. The good news is, it’s easily solved: You can have the excess wax removed professionally. (This is not a DIY activity!) Excessive, persistent ringing or buzzing is called tinnitus. There are a number of kinds of tinnitus including when it’s caused by earwax. Tinnitus is a symptom of some kind of health problem and is not itself a disease or disorder. While it could be as simple as wax buildup, tinnitus is also connected to conditions including depression and anxiety. Tinnitus can be alleviated by dealing with the underlying health concern; talk to a hearing specialist to learn more.

Rumbling

This one’s less common, and if you can hear it, you’re the actually the one making the noises to happen! Have you ever observed how occasionally, if you have a really big yawn, you hear a low rumbling? There are tiny muscles in the ear that contract to help lessen the internal volume of some natural actions such as your own voice or chewing or yawning, It’s the contraction of these muscles in response to these natural sounds that we hear as rumbling. Activities, like yawning and chewing, are so close to your ears that even though they are not really loud, they can still be damaging to your hearing. (But chewing and talking as well as yawning are not something we can stop doing, it’s a good thing we have these little muscles.) It’s extremely unusual, but some people can control one of these muscles, they’re called tensor tympani, and they can create that rumble at will.

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 from that big job interview or a difficult workout, the sound of your pulse will be picked up by your ears. Pulsatile tinnitus is the term for this, and unlike other kinds of tinnitus, it’s one that not just you hear, if you go to see a hearing specialist, they will be able to hear it too. While it’s totally normal to experience pulsatile tinnitus when your heart’s racing, if it’s something you’re dealing with on a regular basis, it’s a practical decision to see your physician. Like other sorts of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus is not a disease, it’s a symptom; there are likely health problems if it continues. But if you just had a good workout, you should not hear it when your heart rate returns to normal.