Why do ears pop in flight?

The rapid change in the altitude or air pressure causes an unequal pressure between your ear and the outside air. This makes your ears POP!

Flying can be a real pain in the neck, but for some it can be a huge pain in the ear, literally! We're talking about the excruciating and stabbing pain in your ear that leads to ringing or fuzzy hearing for hours even after landing. This condition is commonly referred to as “Airplane Ear’.  

The rapid change in altitude which is often experienced during air travel causes ear pain in many passengers. While the airplane ear is generally not considered dangerous, the associated ear pain is extremely uncomfortable and can persist for several days, especially if the pressure in your ears fails to equalize upon landing due to a respiratory ailment such as a cold or severe allergies.

During take off, the air pressure decreases. Air gets trapped in your inner ear; this causes your eardrums to move or "push" forward. Now, your body makes an attempt to equalize the pressure in your inner ear by allowing air to pass through two small tubes connecting your inner ears and throat. This equalization of pressure is the "pop" you hear in your ear! On the way down, the air pressure increases, while your inner ear is still at the lower pressure it has adjusted to. Now, the extra pressure pushes the eardrums inward. This causes the pressure to equalize again, and the feeling of an unwanted bubble in your ear is experienced. After landing, the people just want to ‘pop’ their ears!!

The best ways are to alleviate the pressure are to:

  • Chew gum
  • Drink something
  • Suck on a hard candy or mints
  • Yawn
  • Pinch the nostrils shut, take a deep breath in through the mouth, then force the air into the back of the nose gently, but with pressure. 
  • Take two paper or Styrofoam cups and put them over the ears to cover them up.
  • Try using a decongestant, but be sure to check with your doctor.
  • Another trick that used mainly on babies and small children, but can be used on anyone, is to gently rub your neck repeatedly from the chin to the base of the neck with some pressure. This will cause a swallowing motion that will relieve pressure build-up in the ears. 

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