Bubble Popping Noise in Ear: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

The bubble popping noise in ear drums that you may be feeling now or have felt at some point is often related to a change in the pressure of your eardrums or eustachian tubes. It is a bubble sound in the ear or bubbling in eardrums that can be very annoying, and in some cases, painful. There are many different causes of this bubbling popping noise in the ear. 

You may be experiencing congestion or sinus problems, have just gotten off an airplane, have impacted cerumen or ear wax, or have an ear infection. If you experience the gurgling sound in eardrums often, it may be a result of chronic ear infections. You may also experience a bubbling sound in your ears when lying down, as your ear pressure will change when you recline.

Because there are many different causes of this problem, you should consider seeking medical attention when they are persistent symptoms. There is a wide range of treatments available for people that experience these symptoms regularly. Some may include surgery. 

You will experience mild hearing loss when you have this bubbling popping noise, and if it is a serious problem left untreated, you may experience permanent hearing loss. Use this guide to learn more about the bubbling, popping, or crackling noises you might hear in your ear, and what to do about it.

Causes of Bubble Popping Noise in Ear

The primary cause of this bubbling popping noise in eardrums is a change in the air pressure inside your ears. There are many different causes for this change in air pressure. Some of them are serious, and some are mild or acute situations that will change over time. 

Air pressure inside our ears is going to change when we deplane an aircraft. This is because we will have been inside a cabin at a higher altitude for an extended period. The longer the flight, the greater the chances of experiencing this bubbling popping in the ear.

A train that enters a tunnel will also experience a change in air pressure, as the air inside the train cars will compress when within the tunnel. This is just one cause of the bubbling popping noise you may feel in the ear. Other causes are sinus causes, or physical ailments connected to the eardrums. You may have persistent ear infections or sinus infections that result in chronic gurgling sounds in the eardrums.

Compacted cerumen, also known as earwax, is a common ailment that may cause bubbling in-ear sounds. This cause can be treated almost immediately with some minor cleaning of the ear. If this is a regular problem for you, a specialist should do this for you. This cleaning will unpop the bubbling-in-ear sound and you will no longer hear bubbles in ear drums when your ears are cleaned.

More serious causes of this bubbling sound in the ear are present when there are no changes to the altitude or ear drum pressure at all. This bubbling sound is present when there is a condition that is called Eustachian tube dysfunction. 

Eustachian tube dysfunction occurs when the tubes inside the ear are blocked or damaged. This will need medical treatment and is one of the few causes of bubbling popping sounds in ear drums that require a medical appointment.

a woman wonders what is causing the popping noise in her ears

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian tube dysfunction occurs when there is damage or disease to the tubes inside the middle ear. The Eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the other components of your sinus cavity. Sinus fluid runs through these cavities every day, as a way of cleaning out our systems when dust, germs, or debris attempt to bypass our natural filters. 

The Eustachian tubes help drain all this excess fluid and other products from our ears. These tubes are also very important in maintaining the air pressure inside the eardrum.

As you yawn or even swallow, the Eustachian tubes move. This changes the air pressure inside the tubes so that the inner ear can accommodate some level of homeostasis, or, equilibrium of air and fluid inside the body. 

When your sinuses are swollen or congested, infected, or you are ill, there will be pressure changes within the Eustachian tubes. That will result in fluid retention in the tubes, and bubbling or popping noise in the eardrums. You may also experience dizziness and crackling noises in addition to the bubbling feeling in your eardrums.

If you are hearing bubbles in your eardrums a lot or have a chronic bubbling feeling in your eardrums, you should seek medical attention. You may need sinus medication, antibiotics, or need surgery to have your Eustachian tubes repaired or treated. There are many different treatments for this bubbling in the ears, and your doctor will want to run some tests to help you to find the right treatment plan.

Other Causes of Ear Popping

Among the most common causes of ear popping or bubbling in the ear is a change in altitude. This can happen when you are skiing, hiking with altitude changes, or flying. This is among the most innocuous causes of ear-popping sounds and typically goes away with time on its own as your ears adjust to the new altitude.

Compacted ear wax or cerumen is also going to result in ear popping or bubbling noises. You will also feel a fuller pressure inside the ear when this happens. Because this cerumen can change texture and shape, the ear wax as it melts or drains as fluid will create this bubbling and popping sound when it moves inside the ear canal. Sometimes it will not drain completely, as it is naturally supposed to do. In that case, you are going to feel more bubbling and popping than usual as the cerumen changes consistency in cycles. Warm compresses can help here.

Jaw issues that result in stretching your jaws or mouth on occasion can also cause some ear popping. That is because when you are moving your jaws or even swallowing, you are automatically adjusting the air pressure inside the Eustachian tubes. For this kind of bubbling and popping in the ear, you can chew gum or swallow hard to alter the air pressure inside your ear drums.

Symptoms of Bubble Popping Noise in Ear

The bubble popping noise in the eardrums is often indicated by the first symptom of the bubbling sound in the eardrums itself. You may hear bubbling in the ear or it may actually feel like bubbling. You may go to bed and notice a bubbling sound in your ear when lying down, or continue hearing bubbles in eardrums long after you feel you have temporarily treated the condition. A gurgling sound in the ears is also very common as one of the first signs that you may have an ear issue that should be medically attended to.

Other common signs and symptoms are that of fullness in the ear. You will also hear your own voice in a way that you don’t typically hear yourself. You may even hear your own bodily functions like sniffing and sneezing louder than you usually do. For a serious issue, you are also going to feel some pain, and it is likely to be chronic. Your hearing outside of hearing yourself louder, on the other hand, is going to be muffled and sounds may feel stifled.

Many people confuse this bubbling and popping condition with tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears, screeching or hissing in the ears, or other ear noises that don’t feel normal. The hissing may sound like air being let out of something and it is rather mild, and in many cases low and slow. This is much different than the bubbling and popping noises. 

Tinnitus, particularly chronic tinnitus, is connected to hearing loss. It is often age-related, where the condition is known as hearing loss when the hearing loss is the problem and not a symptom. Tinnitus occurs when our brain is searching for signals to hear, in much the same way a device attempts to connect to Wifi. 

When it can not process audio properly, we hear it as something else inside our heads. That is called tinnitus.

It is time to see a doctor when any of these symptoms occur persistently or for long periods of time. Depending on the cause of hearing loss, it is almost always permanent when it is the condition itself. A hearing change that is caused by an altitude change is not the case. However, a hearing change that is caused by an ear problem or nerve damage is going to be permanent hearing loss. This can not be recovered, but the underlying conditions can still be treated and a doctor must be seen for this.

Home Remedies for Bubble Popping Noise in Ear

If you have ever had a bubbling sound in ear drums then you have probably already tried many home remedies for it. You simply need to pop the opening of your Eustachian tubes and in many cases that will resolve the bubble-popping noise in your eardrums. 

Swallowing and yawning have been shown to be helpful in alleviating this pressure. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy after a long flight is also known to change the air pressure in your eardrums and bring it back to normal.

The Toynbee and Frenzel maneuvers are also methods you can use to change the pressure in your ear drums. For the Frenzel, you want to pinch your nose and make a sound with your throat that sounds like a clicking noise your tongue would make. This is used to bring air into the eardrums, and you will hear better. 

Many singers and actors use this movement to open up the airways and allow them to hear themselves much better. For the Toynbee, pinch your nose and close your mouth and swallow air into your system. You can do this with liquid or water in your mouth if it makes it easier to swallow.

You can also use sinus medication or irrigate your nostrils with sinus sprays that you can purchase at the pharmacy without a prescription. Inhaling steam will also help you with your Eustachian tube airways and warm up the airways. This often helps in stopping the gurgling sound in the eardrums. 

These are just a few of the most common methods of home remedies that you can use to stop hearing bubble popping noise in your eardrums. If your bubble-popping noise is persistent, seek medical attention. There are many treatments available that can help to relieve your symptoms.

Medical Treatments for Bubble Popping Noise in Ear

Medical treatments for bubble popping noise in eardrums will start with prescription medication. You may also want to have your ears checked for compacted cerumen, as getting that removed by a doctor may help you with your bubble-popping noise. Decongestants can help to unclog or unblock the Eustachian tubes and open up the airways. Antibiotics will also be prescribed if you have chronic ear infections.

If you are using decongestants, your doctor will want to know if the airway issue is a result of excess mucus in your sinuses, or if you have an inflammation. These will be treated very differently. You may also need surgery if your Eustachian tubes are blocked. 

In these cases, the doctor makes a little cut in your eardrum in order to drain fluid and pressure so that the pressure inside and outside of your ear equalizes. Small tubes will be put inside the eardrum, but they are not permanent and will fall out on their own.

Talk to Your Doctor About Bubble Popping Noise in Ear Drums

There are many at-home remedies that work when you have bubble sound in ear drums or bubble feeling in your ears. Try those when your situation is not chronic or persistent. If you are experiencing this gurgling or bubbling noise frequently and nothing will make it go away, seek medical attention. 

The sooner you tend to ear issues, the greater your chances of reducing your risk of hearing loss as a result of these issues. At the same time, you will begin to feel better sooner.

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers is currently a Resident in the Internal Medicine program at UTMB. He studied at the University of Queensland School of Medicine as well as received his Master’s in Public Health with a focus in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Southern California. His background is in biology, computer science, public health, and internal medicine.

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