Why Is There a Crackling Sound in My Ear? 7 Possible Causes

So, one day you’re busy going about your life and then out of the blue you start experiencing a weird crackling noise in the ear. An annoying little sound that just won’t go away. And that annoying little sound only seems to get worse with time especially when you swallow, yawn, or pull your ear lobes.

What might be causing the crackling sound in my ear? Is this just a temporary annoyance or something one should be worried about? You might be wondering.

Well, anyone can experience a constant crackle in the ear and as it turns out, there are quite a few reasons why this might be happening to you.

What The Crackling Sound in the Ear Feels Like

First off, there are many different kinds of sounds that can occur in the ear, such as whistling, buzzing, whooshing, thumping, or static. So, it’s important to know what you need to look out for so you can be confident that what you are hearing is not a form of the ringing sound typical of tinnitus, or the clicking noise commonly associated with irritated jaw joints.

The crackling sound typically resembles the sound that some cereal (think Rice Krispies) produces when you add milk to them. It’s worth noting that the small but noticeable crackles can be intermittent or continuous.

Causes Of The Crackling Sound in Your Ear

Though not always indicative of serious ear health problems, it’s advisable to pay attention to those crackling sounds whenever you experience them. Here are some common reasons why you might be experiencing these sounds in the ear. 

1. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD)

Changes in ear pressure can be the reason why there is a crackling sound in your ear. The main auditory passageway responsible for balancing ear pressure is called the eustachian tube. It connects your middle ear to your throat.

Should the eustachian tube get blocked due to allergies, infections, or structural abnormalities, it can trigger a crackling sound. This sound may be accompanied by pressure build-up or a feeling of fullness in the ear.

Normally, eustachian tube dysfunction can be treated with:

  • Nasal sprays
  • Decongestants
  • Antihistamines

In extreme cases, surgery may be required to allow pressure to be equalized in the middle ear.

2. Middle Ear Muscle Spasm

There are two muscles in the middle ear namely the tensor tympani and the stapedius. When these muscles involuntarily contract, they can trigger a series of crackling sounds in the ears. The popping or crackling sound may be a lot more noticeable when you swallow or move your jaw. 

In some cases, middle ear muscle spasms may be caused by allergies, cold/flu, dehydration, or even nerve irritation.

The spasms can last for a brief moment or a few days and may cause sounds that some people often describe as “shotgun” sounds.

Treatment involves addressing the underlying cause and may necessitate the use of medications such as antihistamines or muscle relaxants, along with lifestyle changes.

3. Infection in the Middle Ear (Acute Otitis Media)

Acute otitis media is a condition that is characterized by an infection of the middle ear, and it often affects the space behind the eardrum. The bacterial infection can cause symptoms ranging from fever and ear pain to a sensation of fullness and a crackling sound. Inflammation and swelling of the middle ear may all be to blame for these symptoms but in some cases, an eardrum rupture might be the culprit.

In most cases, the infection can be effectively treated with pain medication and antibiotics. However, if there is a build-up of fluid or pus in the middle ear, it may be necessary to perform a procedure to drain it.

4. Build Up of Ear Wax

Ear wax is a normal and healthy part of the ear. It helps protect the ear canal from bacteria, dust, and water to name a few. Other than that, it plays a vital role in cleaning and lubricating the ear.

However, an excessive amount of ear wax can be produced leading to ear blockage – typically characterized by a feeling of fullness in the ear. In some cases, the excessive wax build-up can trigger crackling sounds due to an obstruction in the normal flow of sound waves to the eardrum.

Also, speaking, chewing, or pulling of earlobes may be enough to cause earwax to move, stick, and separate all of which can cause a crackling sound.

Regular removal of excess ear wax using an eyedropper and applying a few drops of hydrogen peroxide mixed with warm water into the ear canal can help.  In extreme cases, a doctor’s intervention is recommended.

5. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders

The temporomandibular joint, also known as the TMJ, is the “hinge” that joins the jawbone to the skull. There are two of them, one on each side of your head, adjacent to the front side of your ears.

When the TMJ is inflamed or damaged, it can cause a variety of sounds including intermittent crackling sounds. The sounds can be more noticeable when chewing or swallowing and may often feel like a popping sensation close to your ear.

In most cases, if TMJ is the underlying cause of the crackling sound in your ears you may also experience other symptoms among them:

  • Tenderness of the jaw, shoulders, or neck
  • Difficulties with chewing or swallowing
  • Changes in the manner in which your upper & lower teeth fit together
  • Reduced range of movement when opening/closing the mouth

6. Tinnitus (Ringing in Ears)

Tinnitus may cause more than just the usual ringing/buzzing/hissing sound it’s known for. In some cases, it can take the form of crackling, popping, or snapping sound. And although the exact cause of tinnitus ear noise is not fully understood, abnormal activity in the auditory nerves or blood flow changes in the ear is thought to trigger it.

There is currently no cure for tinnitus although there are ways to help manage its symptoms. These include relaxation techniques, counseling, and the use of hearing aids.

7. Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a common medical condition that can occur at any age although it is quite common in old age. It is often accompanied by various tell-tale signs among them pressure build-up in the ear, difficulties understanding speech, and the development of strange sounds (such as crackling sounds) in the ear. 

A tear or rupture of the eardrum membrane may also create a crackling effect especially as air enters the middle ear through the ruptured surface of the eardrum. Hearing loss can be caused by a ruptured eardrum. 

Early treatment of hearing loss and problems with the eardrum can help prevent the condition from worsening.

In summary, the ears are meant to be able to hear a wide range of sounds. However, if you are experiencing a persistently annoying crackling noise coming from within your ears, it is likely that there is a medical problem that needs to be addressed. It might be something as minor as excessive wax build-up or a medical condition that requires a health care provider’s intervention. The best cause of action is to make an appointment with your doctor to have your ears checked and your hearing evaluated.