Airline passengers offer deal with ear-popping. Photo by Photo by Omar Prestwich on Unsplash

A change in your ear pressure when you gain altitude can cause an unpleasant sensation, but it’s really a result of the changes in the plane’s cabin. You might feel the urge to make the feeling go away or make your ears pop, as the saying goes.

Travelers can never be underprepared when it comes to their health, and it’s good to know what’s normal when flying. 

Normally, the pressure in the middle ear is equal to the pressure outside of the ear. The Eustachian Tube, a hollow structure of bone and cartilage that connects the middle ear with the rear of the throat, helps to regulate the pressure in the middle ear and equalize air pressure on either side of the eardrum by pulling air in from the nasal passages or allowing air to vent.

Yawning or swallowing activates the muscles around the Eustachian tube, allowing it to open. During take-offs and landings, however, the atmospheric pressure change in the airplane is too rapid for normal functioning and this can cause discomfort.

Dealing with ear popping and pressure can be painful.
Traveling with ear popping and pressure can be painful. Photo by Unsplash/Jorge Franganillo

How to Get Rid Of Ear Popping and Pressure

What can you do? Yawn frequently or chew gum. Chewing gum increases your saliva production, which increases your swallowing.

For younger children, chewing gum, sucking on hard candy or drinking can help. Infants can breastfeed, bottle-feed or take a pacifier.

If you or your child has a head cold, sinus problems or allergies, you may have difficulty equalizing the air pressure due to an inflamed or mucous-laden Eustachian tube.

Sucking on hard candy can help with ear popping and pressure.
Sucking on hard candy can help with ear pressure.

If you’re planning to fly and know that you’re “stuffed up,” taking a decongestant beforehand may help. Also, the Merck Manual of Medical Information  suggests “blowing hard against a closed mouth and pinched nostrils to equalize air pressure.”

Products for Ear Popping and Pressure

One company, Cirrus Healthcare Products LLC, has come out with a product called “EarPlanes.” They were made specifically for the person with sensitive ears or the person who must fly despite a cold or allergies.

EarPlanes are made up of two elements: a hypoallergenic silicone earplug and a ceramic pressure regulator. The company claims that the pressure regulator in the EarPlanes helps to slow down the rapid pressure changes, therefore reducing the discomfort. 

Should You Postpone Your Trip?

A picture of a woman and a bag.
If your ear problems are causing you pain, you might want to change your plans. Photo by Unsplash/Resi Kling

Sometimes, the pain from ear popping and pressure can be cause for concern. If your congestion is considerable, you might want to postpone your flight, as the discomfort can be severe and the inability to equalize pressure could cause permanent damage to your eardrums. Also, be sure to visit your doctor if you continue to have ear pain after flying.

For more information, check out the Mayo Clinic’s article on airplane ear. 

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