Why does music sound clearer when I yawn or swallow?
October 19, 2010 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Why does music sound clearer when I yawn or swallow?

I have often noticed, for at least the last 10 years, that music gets clearer (sounds more dynamic, especially the high end) when I yawn or swallow. It feels like something is "opening up" in my ear, but only for a split second. I wish I could have this clarity all the time.

Does this happen to you? What could it be?
posted by buckaroo_benzai to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Your ears might be blocked by wax, and the yawning or swallowing could be shifting your ear canals enough to open the blockage.

When this happens to me, I go to my doctor's office and a nurse flushes my ears out with a big syringe full of warm water. It feels a little unpleasant, but afterwards, I can hear my beard.
posted by reegmo at 11:11 AM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Seconding wax. Prepare to be amazed.
posted by crookedneighbor at 11:13 AM on October 19, 2010

Its because you equalize the pressure between your ear and your sinuses. It's called ear popping.

This, however, should really only work when you need to equalize pressure (like if your in an airplane, or diving). I had this too for a long time, and i finally went to see a doctor, and a nurse cleaned my ear out (it was full of wax and gunk). I suddenly could hear again, it was a miracle! If you find that you can't hear real well, go see a doctor.
posted by gkhan at 11:14 AM on October 19, 2010

Is there a way to do this without going to a doctor?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:43 AM on October 19, 2010

You can buy ear-cleaning kits that come with liquid drops and a water squeegie shooter thing, but I think the doctors' kits work better. I've had success with home kits though.
posted by singularian at 11:47 AM on October 19, 2010

I tried the wax-clearing solutions singularian suggested, and they did not work at all. A nurse should do a good cleaning.

One thing you should absolutely not do is use anything other than water to clean your ears. Things like cotton swabs just irritate the ear canal and causes more wax.
posted by gkhan at 12:25 PM on October 19, 2010

Well, you're also repositioning the angle of the sound-receiving apparatus when you're swallowing and yawning. The opposite (inverse?) of this would be if you were sitting on a couch and the right & left speakers were slowly rotated within your range and then back out again.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:38 PM on October 19, 2010

And do not use an ear candle. They are dangerous.
posted by tacodave at 1:08 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing wax. Go to a doctor.
posted by empath at 1:25 PM on October 19, 2010

An alternate possibility - fluid in the inner ear. Pretty common, from what I understand.

I haven't seen an ENT about it yet, but I know that's what I'm dealing with. If I'm in a situation where I notice things sounding a bit more muffled than ususal, I can hold my nose, close my mouth, puff out my cheeks, and BLOW and that clears them for a while, but it eventually flows back in again. Annoying, but not yet annoying enough, I guess.

Treated with sterioids or drainage tubes temporarily installed.
posted by DandyRandy at 2:19 PM on October 19, 2010

A question for folks who have gone to the doctor for cleaning: Do you go to an ENT, or your GP/Family doctor?
posted by ApathyGirl at 3:00 PM on October 19, 2010

When you yawn you open up the Eustachian tube which directly connects your inner ear to your throat. Its primary purpose is to equalize the pressure between the outside air and your inner ear. I don't know why it would make things sound clearer but it seems like it might be worth some thought.
posted by talkingmuffin at 4:24 PM on October 19, 2010

@ApathyGirl: I went to a GP, since my ears really just needed to be cleaned out a bit (done by a nurse, the hardest working medical proffessional), nothing advanced. It really was pretty stunning how my hearing improved, but then again, I let my situation get kinda bad before I took the time.

(and by the way, never in my life have I talked this much about my earwax. Lovely!)
posted by gkhan at 5:41 PM on October 19, 2010

Best answer: It's most definitely the eustachian tubes opening up. I'm dealing with this right now. I thought it was wax, and I've had my ears irrigated so many times since I was a kid. It's worth going to a GP for a check to see if there's wax in there. The irrigation takes just a few minutes, and it's really just spraying some warm water in there and seeing if any ear wax comes out.

However, it's true that ear wax may not be the culprit. What I thought was ear wax was, in fact, fluid in the middle ear (as DandyRandy mentioned). I finally went to an ENT because the irrigation and an antibiotic for a supposed ear infection did nothing to improve the muffledness in my hearing. I wish I would have skipped the GP and gone right to the ENT, but there's no real way of knowing whether it's something simple that will clear itself up, if it's something simple a less expensive trip to a GP or clinic can fix, or if you have to spring for a trip to an ENT. The ENT first gave me a steroid (prednisone) for a week, and that didn't help clear up the problem. Then I had to have a myringotomy and have a tiny tube inserted into my ear. That opened up hearing instantly, and, even though it wasn't pleasant, I couldn't get over how loud and clear everything was after that.

Unfortunately, 1) the tubed ear developed a blockage of more ear wax, so that's been a pain and 2) the other ear that I didn't need drained and tubed now sounds blocked up. I'm afraid I'll have to go back to get that done. However, to go back to your original question.. I can't answer the why (other than the fact that it is the eustachian tubes opening), but you probably have some kind of minor blockage (maybe what they call 'glue ear'). If it's bothering you, you could try some ear drops like Debrox or Murine.. or even just a few drops of hydrogen peroxide. That should fizz up and soften ear wax, if that is indeed the problem. A trip to a GP or clinic could tell you if you have excess ear wax that could benefit from a quick irrigation. When that's all that the problem requires, it really is sweet relief!
posted by Mael Oui at 11:10 PM on October 19, 2010

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