Popping Ears during a Flight

Popping Ears during a Flight

Taking a flight on your next vacation? You may be all too familiar with the feeling of clogged ears during take-off and landing when you travel in an airplane, which results in a subsequent popping sensation in your ears that brings instant relief. You may not know why this actually happens but it is nice to be aware and prepared so that you can feel more comfortable during your next flight.

The popping sensation that happens in the ears originates from the Eustachian tube which is a tiny tube within your ear canal which connects your middle ear with the very back part of your throat. These Eustachian tubes are responsible for maintaining appropriate balance of pressure between the middle ear and the surrounding environment. This is done by enabling air to pass through your inner ear. In case of abrupt changes in air pressure such as during the take-off and landing of a flight, your Eustachian tubes may not have the necessary amount of time to adjust to these abrupt pressure change and thus they close up as a security measure to prevent any damage to your ears.

During take-off, the pressure in the plane is less than the pressure in your ears, which causes your eardrums to inflate outwards. When your flight is landing, the pressure in the plane is far greater than the pressure in your ears, which causes your eardrums to enlarge inwards. This is what causes the uncomfortable sensation of clogged ears and occasional pain. You will also notice that you have trouble hearing properly during these times since inflated eardrums result in clogged ears which block sound signals.

Once the pressure within your ears and the outside environment equalizes, you will feel the familiar ear pop which means that your Eustachian tubes have reopened. You will be able to hear properly once more after this.

You can make yourself feel more comfortable by stimulating muscle movements in your jaw and throat in order to keep the Eustachian tubes open. You can do this by yawning. You can also swallow or suck on a piece of candy or chew some gum to keep these muscles stimulated.

Changes in ear pressure are far worse in infants and in young children since their Eustachian tubes are far narrower and shorter in size. The shape of their Eustachian tube is also more horizontal in comparison to an adult’s, which can make it more difficult for the pressure in their ears to equalize.

In order to help your baby feel more comfortable, you can try feeding them during take-offs and landings to help keep their muscles remain stimulated. Alternatively you can provide them with a pacifier which they can suck on to relieve the discomfort. Older children can suck on lollipops or candies, or suck on drinks using straws to help relieve any pain or discomfort.

Adults may benefit from using nasal sprays before their flight takes-off and also before landing. This can help reduce the amount of inflammation that occurs in your Eustachian tube and enable the popping sensation more easily.

In extremely rare cases, the inability to pop your ears and unclog your Eustachian tubes may result in fluid accumulation in your ears. This may cause ear infections and in extreme cases it may even result in perforated eardrums which can cause hearing damage. Seek medical help if you feel this is the case.

It is important to note that your ears have the ability to restore themselves to their normal functioning without any intervention. Now that you know how to unblock your Eustachian tubes, go on and book the next flight for you and family. Have a happy, safe, and fun flight!