How to Prevent Your Ears From Popping During Flights

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How to Prevent Your Ears From Popping During Flights

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How to Prevent Your Ears From Popping During Flights

By Ofonime Essien

ear diagram

Photo: Divers Alert Network












Flying can be a real pain in the neck, but for some it can also cause a huge pain in the ear. We’re talking about excruciating, stabbing pain that can lead to ringing or fuzzy hearing for hours after you’ve landed. This intense pain could even cause worse symptoms that include bleeding or temporary hearing loss.

The ear pain you experience — barotrauma of the ear — during flights is the most common medical problem reported by air travelers. “Barotrauma” refers to injuries caused by increased air pressure.

Read more: My First Helicopter Flight Experience

Here’s why it happens. Your ear has three parts: the outer ear (including the ear canal), the middle ear and the inner ear. The eardrum comes between the outer ear and the middle ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of your mouth by a thin canal called the Eustachian tube. Air is constantly moving through the Eustachian tube and into the middle ear. This balances the pressure in the middle ear with that in the inner ear.

Ear barotrauma can occur when one (or both) of two things happen: the Eustachian tube becomes blocked or partially blocked, and the air pressure around you changes suddenly.

Air pressure gets lower at higher altitudes. When a plane takes off, and when it descends for landing, the altitude changes rapidly. While the plane has systems to reduce the sudden changes that occur during takeoff and landing, some still occur.

When a plane’s air pressure changes suddenly, it can create a vacuum in the middle ear that pulls the eardrum inward. This can cause pain and muffle sounds. In more severe cases, the middle ear can fill with clear fluid. In the most severe cases, the eardrum can rupture. Fortunately, this is rare.

Barotrauma is much more likely if you’re flying with a cold, infection or allergies. If these conditions block the Eustachian tube, the natural way you have of balancing pressures in your ear is compromised.

So if you are ill and have any flexibility, reschedule your flight until you are better. If you must fly, take a decongestant one hour before your flight or use a decongestant nasal spray, or both. Antihistamines may also help if you have allergies.

Special earplugs can slow down the pressure change that affects the ear. These might give your ears additional time to adjust to pressure changes.

If you experience the symptoms of barotrauma during a flight, try the following — and before the symptoms start (for most people, landing is worse than takeoff):

  • Chew gum or suck on hard candy.
  • Yawn and swallow frequently, tightening the muscles in the back of your throat as you do (you often can feel and hear the Eustachian tube pop open).
  • Breastfeed your infant to prevent him or her from experiencing painful ear popping. You can also give him or her a pacifier or a bottle of milk.

If these methods don’t work, use the “Valsalva maneuver”. Pinch your nose closed, inhale through your mouth, and then try to push the air out through your nose while keeping it pinched shut. Don’t push hard, and stop as soon as one ear pops. If you blow too hard, you can tear your eardrums, so do it carefully.


Pinch nose breathe gently









If you continue to experience ear pain and stuffiness after landing, a decongestant spray may help. If you’re very congested, consider postponing your flight because discomfort or pain can be considerable. In addition, the rapid pressure changes could permanently damage your eardrums.

Sources: Ask Doctor K, Popsugar

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About Author

Ofonime Essien

Mr. Ofonime A. Essien, is a Helicopter Pilot. He is also a Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA), Oracle Certified Associate (OCA), a Computer Forensics Expert, a Blogger, Web Master, a Writer and an Entrepreneur. He is an avid reader. He likes motivating others to achieve their dreams through writing and speaking.

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