Whether you're flying in an airplane, taking the elevator, or diving into the deep end of the swimming pool, your ears will pop at some point. It's the sensation that makes babies wail, grade-school boys giggle, and adults, well, confused. Even though it feels weird, it's completely normal. But why does it happen?
If you think it's got to do with elevation and/or air pressure, you're on the right track. Michael Aranda from SciShow broke it down, and the explanation is a lot simpler than you'd think. Evidently it all has to do with the air pressure in your outer and middle ear.
"Normally the air pressure is the same in both the outer ear and the middle ear. The air molecules bouncing around in each section are separated by the eardrum," he says. "When you're in an airplane, the atmosphere around you has fewer molecules, so the air pressure around you and in your outer ear is lower, but the air pressure in your middle ear stays the same."
Because the air pressure is at different levels in your outer and middle ear, the air molecules in your middle ear push out more than usual onto your eardrum, which causes that "stuffy feeling" that drives us crazy. Everything sounds muted and off because the eardrum is stretched out too much to vibrate normally, Aranda says.
The next time you feel like your ears need to be popped to get back your normal hearing again, just make sure you do it the right way.
"When you yawn or chew gum, you're opening up your eustachian tube so both the outer ear and middle ear balance out again. The pop occurs when the adjusting is taking place," Aranda says.
Instead of plugging your nose and blowing air out with a lot of force, do a gentle blow or simply swallow a few times to pop your ears without tearing your eardrum.