Where’d That Sound Come From?

During a recent appointment, a patient asked us about hearing certain sounds – the occasional “snap, crackle, and pop” – that disappear as fast as they appeared. Quite the mystery for the patient, but we’d come across this phenomenon before!

You see, your ear has lots of parts. Little, intricate segments that do amazing things and almost always last a good, long time. But occasionally something can go awry.

For example, there’s the tympani muscle. It’s one of the ear canal’s real heroes, springing into action when something loud—like your chewing and the start of a clap of thunder—occurs that could damage other parts of the ear. The tympanic reflex muffles sound on its way to the inner ear (but sadly did not evolve to deal with fast-moving sound waves from gunshots).

But when the tympani is having a moment and engages in a muscle spasm, it can create a low rumbling sound that seems like it’s come out of nowhere.

Another small part of the ear that can occasionally go haywire is the Eustachian tube, another vital little piece of hardware. It creates a passageway between the ear canal and nasal cavity. When you swallow or chew gum to relieve ear-popping, this is the relief valve that brings relief by equalizing pressure.

But if it’s clogged up due to an ear infection, head cold, or allergies that relief is not only more difficult, but a crackling sound is often a side effect. Get rid of the congestion and the annoying sound goes away with it.

And then there’s good old earwax, which when accumulated in the wrong place—say, piled up against the eardrum—can cause a constant buzzing and ringing. Usually, this will rectify itself, but if not, don’t try to dig out deeply buried earwax, since doing so can cause more significant damage. Let a professional deal with it.

Those are just a few of the reasons why your head is filled with odd sounds.