Illustration of the anatomy of the ear

Clicking in Ear: Decoding the Sound and Finding Relief

  • May 17, 2024

Hearing a clicking in ear can be distracting and disconcerting. Generally stemming from simple causes like muscle twitching to more complex issues such as Eustachian tube dysfunction, the clicking in ear can be effectively managed once understood. This article dives straight into identifying these sources and offers practical advice to help you silence the clicks and regain your peace of mind.


Key Takeaways

  • Clicking in the ear is commonly caused by Eustachian tube dysfunction, TMJ disorders, or middle ear myoclonus, and can be accompanied by various symptoms such as ear pain, pressure, or hearing changes.
  • Persistent or severe clicking, especially when accompanied by other symptoms like pain or hearing loss, warrants medical attention to diagnose potential underlying conditions including infections or structural ear problems.
  • Treatment options for clicking in the ear can range from managing Eustachian tube dysfunction with medications to addressing TMJ disorders or middle ear myoclonus with therapy, medications, or in some cases, surgery.


Understanding Clicking Sounds in Your Ear

Illustration of the anatomy of the ear

When your ear suddenly sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies, it’s natural to be curious or even concerned. The ear is an intricate organ, and sometimes, it can produce a symphony of unexpected noises, including clicking sounds. While such auditory quirks are usually harmless and relate directly to the ear’s anatomy, it’s essential to understand what may be causing them and when they might signal something more serious.

So, let’s take a closer look at what’s happening inside your ears when you hear that peculiar crackling noise, also known as crackling in your ear.

The Anatomy of Clicking

Imagine the ear as a complex machine with tiny moving parts. The clicking sound you hear is often linked to these very components. It may surprise you to learn that your middle ear contains small muscles that can contract, sometimes involuntarily, in response to loud noises or even normal activities like swallowing or yawning. These muscles, when they twitch, can tap against other structures in the ear, creating a clicking or popping sound.


Moreover, the Eustachian tube, which helps equalize pressure in the ear, can be another source of clicking when it opens and closes.


Distinguishing Clicking from Other Ear Noises

Not all sounds in the ear are created equal. The clicking sound has its own distinct signature, setting it apart from the constant ringing of tinnitus or the swooshing sound of blood flow that some people experience. It’s often described as a staccato beat, akin to kernels of popcorn popping or, as some would say, like cereal crackling in milk.


This rhythmic or irregular noise can be heard in one or both ears and is typically mechanical in origin, stemming from movements within the ear’s structures. In contrast, other tinnitus sounds often result from nerve disturbances or damage and can present as a more constant ringing, buzzing, or hissing.


Primary Causes of Clicking in the Ear

Photo of a person experiencing ear pressure

Embarking on a quest to uncover the root of ear clicking, we encounter a variety of suspects. The usual culprits range from the benign – like earwax impaction – to more concerning issues such as Eustachian tube dysfunction or infections. Other conditions like middle ear myoclonus (MEM) and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can also orchestrate that clickety-clack symphony in your auditory chamber. Understanding these primary causes is crucial, as they set the stage for addressing and treating the clicking effectively.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: A Common Culprit

The Eustachian tube, a narrow passage connecting the middle ear to the upper throat, plays a vital role in maintaining ear pressure balance. However, when it malfunctions, it can lead to a feeling of fullness, ear pain, muffled hearing, and yes, that characteristic clicking sound. Dysfunction can manifest in two main forms: an obstructive type, where the tube fails to open properly, and a patulous type, where it remains abnormally open. Causes for these dysfunctions are varied, ranging from allergies and sinus infections to more systemic issues like weight loss or stress.


In cases of obstructive Eustachian tube dysfunction, inflammation or blockages from allergies or infections can prevent the tube from opening, leading to a buildup of pressure and fluid in the middle ear. This can create not only a sense of discomfort but also the clicking or crackling noises as the eustachian tube attempts to open during swallowing or yawning. The good news is that there are a variety of treatments available, which we’ll explore later on.


TMJ Disorder and Its Connection to Ear Clicking

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), located just in front of the ears, can be a surprising source of ear clicking. This joint’s dysfunction can transmit a symphony of sounds into the ear canal, including clicking, due to its proximity to the ear structures. TMJ disorders can be brought on by various factors, such as teeth grinding, arthritis, or trauma to the jaw. Sufferers often report a constellation of symptoms including jaw pain, difficulty chewing, and the audible clicking sounds that can mimic those originating from within the ear.


When it comes to alleviating these symptoms, treatments for TMJ disorders may include using mouth guards to prevent teeth grinding, physical therapy to strengthen jaw muscles, or even medications to reduce inflammation. And for those seeking more natural relief, gentle jaw exercises and relaxation techniques can help soothe the tension in the jaw joint and muscles, potentially reducing the clicking sounds.


Middle Ear Myoclonus: When Muscles Twitch

Diving deeper into the middle ear, we encounter a condition known as middle ear myoclonus (MEM), a rare but real contributor to ear clicking. This peculiar phenomenon occurs when the muscles within the ear, specifically the tensor tympani or stapedius muscles, begin to spasm, leading to an array of sounds including clicking, buzzing, or even a rhythmic drumming. The spasms can be triggered by various factors, such as changes in body position, external sounds, or even facial movements.


Interestingly, while MEM can be quite the nuisance due to the noise it generates, it usually doesn’t impair hearing. However, when it comes to treatment, the condition can be somewhat enigmatic, demonstrating unpredictable responses to various interventions. This can range from:


  • medications to reduce muscle spasms
  • sound therapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • relaxation techniques
  • acupuncture
  • surgical procedures in more severe cases


This highlights the importance of a tailored approach to managing this unique form of tinnitus.


When the Beat Does Not Go On: Symptoms of Pulsatile Tinnitus

While the primary symptom of pulsatile tinnitus is the rhythmic thumping or whooshing sound, the condition often doesn’t stop there. Imagine trying to concentrate on a task or drift off to sleep while a constant, rhythmic heartbeat sound plays in your ear. This condition can significantly interrupt concentration and sleep, disrupting daily activities and making it difficult to focus on work or personal tasks.


Recognizing Symptoms That Accompany Ear Clicking

The plot thickens when ear clicking is not a solo act but part of an ensemble of symptoms. These additional signs can range from subtle to severe and may point to different underlying issues. Whether it’s the discomfort of ear pain and pressure or changes in hearing such as:


  • muffled sounds
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • dizziness or vertigo
  • ear fullness or congestion
  • ear discharge or bleeding


Being attuned to what accompanies the clicking can provide valuable clues for diagnosis and treatment.


Let’s delve into these additional symptoms and understand their significance in the context of ear clicking.


Ear Pain and Pressure Sensations

The sensation of ear pain or pressure is a common co-star to the clicking sound. Some possible causes include:


  • Obstructive Eustachian tube dysfunction, which can lead to a sensation of fullness and muffled hearing
  • Middle ear infections, which can cause pain and a feeling of pressure that can exacerbate the clicking noises
  • Earwax blockage, which can contribute to a full feeling in the ear, along with decreased hearing and a crackling sound.


Thankfully, there are ways to address these sensations. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen can provide some relief from ear pain and pressure. However, it’s important to note that while these symptoms can often be managed at home, persistent or severe pain and pressure should not be ignored, as they may indicate a more serious underlying condition that warrants a visit to a healthcare provider.


Hearing Changes and Muffled Sounds

Moving beyond discomfort, changes in hearing can also accompany the clicking symphony in your ears. The crackling may come hand in hand with muffled sounds or even partial hearing loss, particularly when fluid from a middle ear infection muffles the vibrations that traverse the ear. This sensation of having a plugged ear can be disconcerting and may interfere with daily activities, signaling the need to address the underlying cause.


If you find yourself turning up the volume more than usual or asking others to repeat themselves, consider it a cue to get your hearing checked. Audiometric exams, along with tuning fork tests like Weber’s and Rinne’s, can assist in determining the extent of hearing loss and the presence of tinnitus accompanying the clicking sounds. Even when hearing changes are subtle, they can be significant indicators of conditions such as ear infections or eustachian tube dysfunctions, making medical consultation a wise next step.


When to Seek Medical Attention

While a sporadic clicking sound in the ear can be as fleeting as a whisper in the wind, there are times when it’s prudent to seek the guidance of a medical professional. Persistent or severe clicking, especially when accompanied by other symptoms, should not be taken lightly. Even if home remedies have been tried, a lack of improvement over a couple of weeks could be a clarion call to consult a doctor.


So, let’s explore when it’s time to lift the curtain and allow a healthcare provider to take center stage in your auditory saga.


Persistent or Severe Symptoms

Persistence and severity are the key actors that should prompt you to consider medical advice. Whether the clicks in your ear have become a relentless soundtrack or the associated pain and pressure have intensified, these are signs that there might be a larger narrative at play. Recurrence is another spotlight, indicating that the underlying cause needs professional evaluation.


Remember, your ears are delicate instruments, and conditions like middle ear myoclonus and inner ear disorder may require more than just a home remedy to bring the curtain down on the clicking.


Accompanying Signs of Infection

The presence of infection can transform the clicking from a mere nuisance to a serious health concern. A high fever or the sight of discharge containing blood or pus are red flags that should immediately set off alarms.


Middle ear infections, for instance, may present with a combination of earaches, trouble sleeping, and feelings of pressure, all of which can contribute to or coincide with crackling sounds. Severe ear pain that refuses to abate is a strong indicator that your ear deserves the spotlight of medical attention.


Diagnostic Approaches to Clicking in the Ear

When the whispers of clicking become too loud to ignore, stepping into the diagnostic limelight becomes necessary. A healthcare provider will orchestrate a series of examinations and tests to pinpoint the source of your aural enigma. This might involve a close look at your medical history, a physical exam, and possibly a suite of specialized tests designed to uncover the cause of the clicking sound.


Let’s take a deeper dive into the methods doctors use to diagnose the mysterious sounds within your ears.


Physical Exam and Medical History Review

The first act in the diagnostic play is a detailed review of your medical history. Doctors will look for past occurrences of ear-related symptoms or related health conditions that might contribute to the clicking. This is followed by a physical exam, where the doctor conducts a visual inspection of the ears for any abnormalities, such as asymmetry, scars, or signs of infection, which could be playing a role in the ear clicking. An otoscopy allows for a closer examination of the external auditory canal and tympanic membrane, while pneumatic otoscopy can assess the mobility of the eardrum, revealing potential middle ear issues.


In addition, the physical exam may include testing the function of the facial nerve, as impairments here could be linked to ear clicking. These initial steps provide critical insights and set the stage for more specialized testing if needed. They are the foundation upon which a healthcare provider can build a comprehensive understanding of your condition and guide you towards the appropriate treatment.


Specialized Tests and Imaging

In the quest to demystify ear clicking, specialized tests and imaging play pivotal roles. Imaging tests such as CT and MRI scans offer a backstage pass to view the inner workings of the ear’s anatomy, revealing any structural abnormalities that could be causing the clicking sounds. These tests can uncover issues beyond the surface, such as Eustachian tube dysfunction or other conditions like Meniere’s disease, which may not be immediately apparent during a physical exam.


When the examination moves beyond the visual, tests like tympanometry and acoustic reflex testing take center stage. Tympanometry evaluates the eardrum’s movement and can indicate the presence of fluid in the middle ear or other abnormalities affecting its compliance. Acoustic reflex testing, on the other hand, assesses how the middle ear muscles respond to sound. These tests are instrumental in diagnosing clicking sounds in the ear, allowing healthcare providers to fine-tune their treatment approach to the specific needs of your ears.


Treatment Options for Clicking in the Ear

Once the cause of the ear clicking has been identified, the focus shifts to treatment. The medical world offers a variety of remedies tailored to the underlying condition, ranging from simple earwax removal to medications and even surgical interventions.


But before you navigate the seas of treatment options, it’s vital to understand that not every crackle or pop necessitates medical intervention, especially if they are infrequent and benign. Now, let’s explore the treatment options that address the common causes of clicking in the ear, providing relief and restoring harmony.


Managing Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian tube dysfunction, a leading actor in the clicking ensemble, can often be managed effectively with a combination of medications and sometimes surgical procedures. Some treatment options include:


  • Decongestants and nasal corticosteroid sprays to clear the passages and reduce inflammation
  • Antihistamines to alleviate symptoms caused by allergies
  • Tympanostomy tubes, balloon dilation, or adenoidectomy to restore proper function to the Eustachian tube


These treatments can help alleviate symptoms and improve Eustachian tube function.


The choice of treatment for Eustachian tube dysfunction depends on the severity and chronic nature of the condition. It’s a balance between providing relief and considering the potential impact on the patient’s quality of life. It’s also important to note that while some cases may be resolved with a straightforward approach, others may require more complex and ongoing management strategies.


Therapies for TMJ Disorders

TMJ disorders, when severe, demand a therapeutic response that may range from medication to non-invasive interventions. For those grappling with pain and discomfort, the following options can offer relief:


  • Pain relievers and anti-inflammatories
  • Tricyclic antidepressants and muscle relaxants
  • Oral splints or mouth guards
  • Physical therapy


These treatments can help mitigate the impact of teeth grinding, improve jaw function, and alleviate symptoms.


For those who prefer to sidestep pharmacological solutions, non-drug therapies such as counseling to address stress-induced clenching, as well as alternative treatments like acupuncture, may prove beneficial. In more stubborn cases, less invasive treatments such as arthrocentesis or injections might be explored, and in rare instances, surgery may be the final act in resolving persistent TMJ disorders.


Addressing Middle Ear Myoclonus

When it comes to middle ear myoclonus, the treatment repertoire can include a combination of:


  • Oral medications
  • Nonpharmacological interventions
  • Antiepileptic drugs
  • Tinnitus masking devices
  • Psychotherapy
  • Specialized hearing aids designed for tinnitus management


These options can help control symptoms and offer a sense of normalcy for those with middle ear myoclonus.


In cases where these treatments fail to quiet the clicking, surgical intervention may become the necessary course of action. Procedures like middle ear muscle tendon lysis have provided relief for many patients, reducing or even eliminating the troublesome tinnitus sounds. It’s a reminder that while MEM may be a challenging adversary, the arsenal of modern medicine offers a range of weapons to combat it.


Home Remedies and Self-Care Strategies

Not all clicking in the ear demands a medical intervention; sometimes, the key to tranquility lies in simple home remedies and self-care strategies. Whether it’s employing jaw exercises to ease tension or using mineral oil to manage earwax, these methods can be surprisingly effective in providing relief.


So, let’s turn our attention to the everyday practices you can adopt to keep the clicks at bay and maintain the serene soundscape of your auditory environment.


Jaw Exercises and Relaxation Techniques

For those navigating the rocky shores of TMJ disorders, home management strategies can serve as a lighthouse, guiding you toward calmer waters. Here are some strategies to consider:


  • Jaw exercises can strengthen and relax the muscles, potentially reducing the clicking sounds.
  • Applying heat or cold can soothe sore muscles and alleviate pain.
  • Adopting relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation can help manage stress, a known exacerbator of TMJ symptoms.


For those wary of long-term medication use, alternative medicine techniques like acupuncture may provide a holistic approach to managing chronic TMJ-related pain. These non-invasive strategies can complement or even replace traditional treatments, offering a more natural path to relief from the clicking and associated symptoms.


Ear Drops and Wax Management

Earwax, while a natural and necessary substance for ear health, can sometimes be the lead character in the clicking drama. If too much earwax accumulates, it can lead to blockages and the accompanying crackling sounds. To tackle this, over-the-counter ear drops containing:


  • baby oil
  • mineral oil
  • glycerin
  • hydrogen peroxide


Using a specialized solution can soften the ear wax, making it easier to remove. It’s an effortless and gentle way to manage earwax without resorting to potentially harmful probing with cotton swabs.


When self-care doesn’t hit the right note, professional earwax removal may be the encore you need. If repeated softening and irrigation at home don’t clear the blockage, a healthcare provider can safely remove the excess earwax, ensuring your auditory passages are clear and the clicking concert comes to an end.


Lifestyle Adjustments to Prevent Ear Clicking

Prevention is often the sweetest melody when it comes to ear clicking. Minor adjustments to your lifestyle can play a significant role in keeping the clicks out of your ear’s repertoire. From using hearing protection in noisy environments to treating allergies and maintaining nasal hygiene, these proactive steps can help you sidestep the causes of clicking sounds.


Let’s examine how a few simple changes can turn the volume down on those unwanted clicks and ensure your ears keep to the rhythms you prefer.


Avoiding Loud Noises and Protecting Hearing

The cacophony of modern life can be a siren song leading to ear clicking. Shielding your ears from loud noises is a critical preventive measure. Whether you’re at a concert, working with loud machinery, or simply mowing the lawn, proper hearing protection is essential. Earplugs and earmuffs are excellent allies in this endeavor, particularly when they fit correctly and are used consistently. Be sure to check the noise reduction rating (NRR) on these devices; it’s a measure of the decibels they can help you avoid.


Combining earplugs with earmuffs can offer an additional layer of sound insulation, though it’s important to note that the total sound reduction is not simply the sum of their NRR values. By taking these precautions, you can significantly reduce the risk of ear clicking caused by noise-induced ear damage, keeping the concert of life at a volume that’s music to your ears.


Controlling Allergies and Sinus Issues

Allergies and sinus issues often pull the strings behind the curtain of ear clicking. By controlling these conditions, you can minimize the chances of Eustachian tube dysfunction and the resulting clicking sounds. Here are some steps you can take to manage allergies and sinus issues and prevent ear clicking:


  • Identify and avoid allergens that trigger reactions.
  • Use saline nasal sprays to clear the sinuses and prevent Eustachian tube blockages.
  • Keep the nasal passages moist with humidifiers to support sinus health and prevent clicking.


Regular check-ups with an otolaryngologist can be a sound investment for those with chronic allergies or sinus problems. Additionally, practices such as keeping the outer ear dry and clean to prevent infections can also reduce the risk of clicking. These lifestyle changes can harmonize the intricate relationship between your sinuses, Eustachian tubes, and ears, ensuring a symphony of health rather than a cacophony of clicking.



In the grand finale of our exploration, we’ve traversed the intricate landscape of ear clicking, from its anatomical origins to the myriad causes and treatments. Don't forget to seek a healthcare professional. We’ve learned that while clicking sounds can often be benign, they can also be the chorus to a more complex medical condition. Whether through medical intervention, home remedies, or lifestyle changes, there are many ways to address and prevent these auditory oddities. As you go forth, let this knowledge empower you to listen to your body’s signals and maintain the harmony within your ears. 


Frequently Asked Questions


How do you clear a clogged Eustachian tube?

To clear a clogged Eustachian tube, try simple exercises like holding your nose and gently blowing, yawning, or chewing gum, as these can open the blocked tubes and provide relief.


Why do I hear a clicking in my head?

You may be experiencing "objective tinnitus," caused by abnormalities in blood vessels or muscle spasms, leading to clicks or crackling sounds inside the middle ear. It's best to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment.


How do I get rid of crackling in my ear?

To get rid of crackling in your ear, consider applying mineral oil or trying physical therapy exercises for TMJ. Other options include earwax removal, decongestants, nasal steroids, and antibiotics. Additionally, home remedies like popping your ears, nasal irrigation, earwax removal, and using over-the-counter products may help. It's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before trying any treatment.


Can ear clicking be a sign of something serious?

Yes, ear clicking can be a sign of something serious, especially if it is persistent, severe, and accompanied by pain, pressure, or hearing changes. If you experience these symptoms, it's important to seek medical attention promptly.


Are there any lifestyle changes that can help prevent ear clicking?

Yes, protecting your hearing from loud noises, managing allergies and sinus issues, and maintaining good nasal hygiene can help prevent ear clicking. Therefore, making lifestyle changes such as these can help reduce the occurrence of ear clicking.