Whether you’re travelling for business or that well deserved holiday break, there’s nothing like ear pain to ruin the fun of flying.
While the pain usually subsides soon after landing1,2, it can be quite uncomfortable, particularly on take-off and landing. As well as the pain, some people experience a feeling of stuffiness in the ear and muffled hearing, which is also unpleasant.3
Ear pain during flying, also known as airplane ear, or ear barotrauma, is caused by an imbalance of air pressure between the outer ear and middle ear, which puts stress on your eardrum. You may have even experienced your ears ‘popping’ as your drive up a mountain. This is also caused by the sudden change in atmospheric pressure4 – the same effect as an aeroplane cabin pressurising and de-pressurising on take-off and landing.
Normally, the air pressure on both sides of your eardrums is equal, and it’s maintained that way by the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the upper throat and back of the nasal cavity.4 That’s why swallowing or yawning sometimes helps.5 When you swallow or chew gum, the action briefly opens the Eustachian tube allowing the excess pressure in the ear to dissipate through the nose and throat.6
Tips on avoiding earplane ear while flying
Apart from swallowing or chewing gum, there are a few other things to try to relieve the middle ear pressure causing the pain”
- Try yawning or mimicking the action – opening the jaw opens the Eustachian tube just like chewing
- Suck a sweet lolly slowly
- Pinch your nostrils shut, close your mouth and ‘blow’. You should feel and hear your ears pop
- If you always experience ear pain when flying, try to make sure you’re awake when the plane is due to land. That way you can take the steps outlined above, which you can’t do while sleeping2,3
- Try filtered earplugs designed specifically for flying. Filtered earplugs help to slowly equalise the pressure during ascent and descent3
- Try and avoid flying if you have a cold, congestion, or an ear infection.3 If rescheduling isn’t possible, use a nasal decongestant spray before take-off and landing
- If you’re travelling with children who might suffer from ear pain, consider giving them something to chew on. A water-filled sports drink bottle with a straw can also help, as can a dummy/pacifier or feeding from a bottle in the case of babies2
Fortunately, most of these solutions are free or very affordable. You can check out the Otifleks flight earplugs here.