Super human? Ear sucks?
September 2, 2009 2:00 AM   Subscribe

This thread reminded me of my Crazy Ears. I've always wondered if mine are broken or if I'm some kind of superhero. My ability: I can cause them to pop at will, without moving anything else in my head. And then things I think are Bad.

On airplanes, I've never had trouble trying to get my ears to pop. I don't need to chew gum, or blow with my mouth shut, or move anything around with my jaw or anything like that. I seem to be able to just cause it to happen whenever I like, with only the power of my mind! I can do it up to about twice per second. Is this normal for humans? Something most people can do with practice? Evidence of some problem?

I ask if it's a problem, because of three things that don't seem to be problems but I think are at least abnormal:
  1. Every single time I swallow, like perhaps some saliva, or even nothing, the ears pop. Can't be helped, unless I try really really hard to sort of softly swallow. I don't think this is universal, and would guess this is evidence of my opening/closing of the eustachian tube being on some sort of hair-trigger.
  2. I think I have very mild tinnitus in both ears. Probably not related, but as long as I can remember there's no such thing as a perfectly silent room, and I can hear a high pitch (but very quiet) noise in silence. Similar to what you'd hear out of a turning-on-CRT TV (but very quiet) So mild, part of me wonders if everyone has that but doesn't bother to mention it.
  3. Crazy annoying: Something is up with my left ear. Certain high frequency sounds at somewhat-loud volumes make it sort of "go staticy". Best I could describe it. Gets sort of fuzzy. Been around a long time, I can remember thinking "WHAT THE HECK!?!?!?!" one time when my mom was yelling at me in a particularly high pitch voice as it kicked in when I was under in my count-on-two-hands years. Would love to know what this is called. Not a problem when talking to people or doing normal stuff day to do, but it sucks that I have to keep music quiet sometimes. The volume level necessary to cause it to occur seems to vary.
SO! Should I see an audiologist? Is this all par-the-course-for-humans?
posted by floam to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and in addtion to being able to cause them to pop whenever/whereever, I can also sort of "hold it" for up to about 10-15 seconds (gets tiring, feels like flexing something). During this time my voice sort of reverberates through my head. Never found any utility for this though.
posted by floam at 2:15 AM on September 2, 2009

I think I have very mild tinnitus in both ears.

I get the same high-pitched sound, but only in a silent environment and generally only if I'm thinking about it. I suspect it's pretty common.

Certain high frequency sounds at somewhat-loud volumes make it sort of "go staticy".

I had that precise effect when I had a problem with compacted ear wax. It may be worth having your ears looked at by a doctor. An audiologist might be overkill.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:15 AM on September 2, 2009

I think I know what you're talking about with the ear popping, and I think it's literally just pulling your eustachian tubes open. If we are talking about the same thing, then as a data point I can do it at will too. However, I wouldn't call the actual action itself "ear popping", I'd only use that name for the sudden pressure change that it can sometimes facilitate.

I think most people's eustachian tubes open when they swallow, so people chew gum or suck on boiled sweets on airplanes because it encourages saliva for them to swallow.

With the staticy thing, does that always happen or does it suddenly kick in sometimes? I think I get that too, and it always felt to me like something was clearing out of my ear and I was actually hearing properly again after being bunged up for a while. The most common thing I can think of that causes this is having water in my ear after swimming, then letting it drain out.
posted by lucidium at 3:00 AM on September 2, 2009

Pop may have been the wrong word. It's audible to me, though. I hear sort of a little click, even at sea level with no pressure difference. It's louder if I use it under water at a depth or on a plane.

As for the staticy thing, it can just about always be induced if I want to put on some headphones and crank it up too loud. What varies is how loud it needs to be. It's usually at some high level that I wouldn't want to hear anything that loud anyways. Sometimes it's less.
posted by floam at 4:19 AM on September 2, 2009

Yeah, I can do the ear popping thing. It's not especially common. You are holding your Eustachian tubes open, that's why it is tiring. Some people can control those itty bitty muscles, some cannot, just like the ability to flex your nostrils, do bunny nose, fold your tongue, roll your tongue, or voluntary nystagmus (eye-wiggling).

If it happens when you don't want, that sounds like a touch of patulous eustachian tube.

You might have tinnitus or you might have great hearing. Do you notice the sound during power outages? Out in the wilderness?

The staticy bits you got from certain frequency could be a lot of things, including hyperacusis. That one would require an audiologist.
posted by adipocere at 4:27 AM on September 2, 2009

It certainly doesn't sound normalfor it to be a full time thing.
I get the popping thing two or three times a year, and the staticy effect sounds a bit like what I get when, well, I think I get it with certain migraines, but I'm not really sure. I get this effect where not only are certain high pitched noises staticy, but they hurt as well. If someone opens a bag of chips or something, the rustling noise is extra staticy, but also really painful to hear, while else may be.

But to have this all the time? Well, I don't.
posted by opsin at 5:33 AM on September 2, 2009

I can do the ear popping thing too. Never thought of it as a superpower, but maybe now I will!
posted by heatherann at 5:36 AM on September 2, 2009

I can do the ear popping thing too, although recently I've been having some issues with my jaw and so the left side doesn't pop properly and it really gets to me, because I absolutely have to be able to pop it.

I hate silent rooms, I have to sleep with some sort of white noise. If you hear the same thing with ear plugs in, I would suggest that it might be the "blood moving around" sound.
posted by that girl at 5:46 AM on September 2, 2009

I have the same "clicking" when I swallow and can pop my eustachian tubes at will, even when I don't need to. I get super dizzy when I do it, too. I also have constant tinnitus, although at very low levels, so I need to sleep with white noise or it becomes deafening.

I had a LOT of ear infections when I was a kid. A LOT. I also had an ear drum burst a few years ago due to a massive infection. So I don't know how many of my ear issues are related to past infections or how much of it is normal aging. I've never asked my ENT about it. I will if I think of it the next time I'm in his office.
posted by cooker girl at 6:30 AM on September 2, 2009

I thought everybody could do this. Now feel a special kinship with my freaky ear-popping brethren.
posted by rocket88 at 6:36 AM on September 2, 2009

I love doing that ear popping thing. I like to leave them popped and listen to my breath roar.
posted by bink at 6:57 AM on September 2, 2009

1) I can do the ear popping at will, my wife cannot. Not sure if this mutant ability has been passed on to our 2 year old yet.

2) I hear the possible tinnitus sound every once and a while, and have just chalked it up to aging and not wearing ear protection enough as a kid. it doesn't last long and usually goes away in a few minutes. My dad works with a lot of heavy machinery and has it a lot worse.

3) I've had the "go staticy" sensation at over-loud rock concerts, but never from a loudly spoken voice. If you could find a song or a recording that could reliably reproduce the staticy feeling, an audiologist might be able to tell you what's going on... IANAAudiologist
posted by jrishel at 7:06 AM on September 2, 2009

I'm so jealous that you can pop (open your tube etc) at will. Freedivers train hard to be able to do it 'hands-free' but I've never been able to get there.

Hats off to all you ear-popping superheroes out there...
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 7:10 AM on September 2, 2009

Floam, you pretty much described my ears to a tee, minus the high-pitched static. I've gotten very good at eustachian-tube-fine-tuning via jaw movements and controlled yawns, and I think of it as a feature rather than a bug, brought about by years of conditioning from clearing ears while scuba diving. I do get the tinnitus, though, which has caused me some concern.
posted by brownpau at 7:32 AM on September 2, 2009

as abonus, sometimes when i'm driving on mountain passes, i actually build up pressure in my ears and have it equal out as i go decend.
posted by lester at 7:49 AM on September 2, 2009

I never once considered this was something that other people might not be able to do, or even really thought of the fact that I was doing it. Weird.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:17 AM on September 2, 2009

Can't do the popping thing -- I have a different ear-talent. I can generate a low rumble in my ears at will...
posted by crenquis at 8:40 AM on September 2, 2009

I remember once mentioning that I could do the ear thing to someone and getting a weird response, so I guess it isn't so common. But it's common enough, I suppose given these comments. I have always loved being able to do it as it helps when sick and congested.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:15 AM on September 2, 2009

I'm yet another of the crowd, I get all three, though the static is usually after a really loud event like a concert, rather than high-pitched sounds. If I pop the ears too much, though, I start yawning.
posted by Lifeson at 11:21 AM on September 2, 2009

Yep. Ear popper, static at loud rock shows, and voluntary nystagmus. I never knew that crazy eye shit that I can do had a name, and I've never known anyone else who can do it!

posted by grateful at 11:43 AM on September 2, 2009

Certain high frequency sounds at somewhat-loud volumes make it sort of "go staticy".

I have the exact same thing as your #3! A doctor seemed to think it was nothing to be worried about. I'll write you a MeFi Mail.

As for ear popping, I can do it intentionally too, and it happens (not very noticeably, though) when I swallow. I've always been able to pop my ears, long before I had #3, and I don't have tinnitus. So I don't think you should be worried.
posted by k. at 1:50 PM on September 2, 2009

Another hands-free popper here— although without the tinnitus. I do get static at rock shows (had it badly after Mogwai last year, and was wearing hearing protection).
posted by a halcyon day at 4:11 PM on September 2, 2009

I don't really have the popping ability unless I really need it, like after swimming. But I did used to have terrific problems with my jaw getting misaligned, which might be what some are saying here about "popping" the jaw. If it got out of joint it was very painful until I could get it back aright.

Anyway, back in the 1980s already, I took some t'ai chi chu'an classes, and it cleared up -- permanently. Never had a problem since. I also fixed a weak ankle that used to flop out from under me on hitting the slightest misaligned sidewalk joint. Anyway, tai chi or yoga or whatnot may be in order if this is bothering you.
posted by dhartung at 6:58 PM on September 2, 2009

I'm a few days late to the party, but I can do the popping thing too. I'd call it a crackling rather than a pop or click. It's very very slightly painful and more audible/powerful in my right ear.

I remember as a child a doctor once looked in my ear - I can't remember why - and I remember thinking to myself something like "Should I do it or not? Maybe I should, but then he might hurt me". And I didn't. And twenty years later it's still a secret. I've always had this vague idea that it might be a Bad Thing, but I've never gotten around to doing anything about it.

My right ear is a bit funny though - I'm sure it doesn't hear as clearly as the left, and I used to get this thing sometimes when swallowing food - it would feel as if the food had gone in my ear, into a space to small. It would be quite painful for a little while and then go away.

And... whilst I'm on the subject - my voice sometimes goes strange in my right ear. You know when you have in-canal earphones on and you speak and your voice sounds all different - well I get that in my right ear sometimes.

Maybe I should go to the doctor after all. What do you think?
posted by SebastianKnight at 10:34 AM on September 7, 2009

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