7 Remedies to avoid ear pain during flight

Man with ear pain

Airplane ear, also known as ear pain during and after flying, is often disregarded as a small inconvenience. Although it can be an insignificant price to pay while journeying towards your destination.

Though most ear irritation during air travel is minor, severe pain and hearing loss can rarely occur due to ear discomfort and pressure when landing.

Discover methods to prevent ear pain during flight.

Why do your ears hurt on a plane?

Airplane ear, otherwise known as ear barotrauma, occurs when there is an imbalance in the pressure in your ear and the surrounding air pressure. This condition can cause stress on your eardrum, often resulting in discomfort when ascending after takeoff or descending for landing on an airplane.

Why do your ears pop in an airplane?

The reason behind popping is fluctuations in air pressure.

Normally, the air pressure inside your inner ear is similar to or at least not significantly different from the air pressure outside your ear, which doesn't cause any issues. Even if you were to hike up a mountain, the gradual change in altitude would allow the pressure to equalize gradually.

However, during rapid changes in altitude, such as during take-off and descent in an airplane, the pressure inside the inner ear and the external air pressure don't have enough time to equalize properly. This rapid change in pressure leads to the occurrence of the problem, resulting in the popping sensation.

How to avoid ear pain during flight: 7 remedies

Airplane ear can affect anyone who travels by plane.

Individuals with a history of recurrent ear infections or ruptured eardrums are more prone to experiencing ear issues while flying. Those with narrow or small Eustachian tubes, such as young children, are also more susceptible and may experience more severe symptoms.

Here are 7 remedies to prevent ear pain during a flight:

1. Valsalva Manoeuvre

If you're seeking a solution on how to prevent ear popping on a plane, rest assured that it's a common issue. Allowing your ears to equalize pressure is key.

To alleviate the popping, hold your nostrils closed and fill your mouth with air, then push air out of your ears.

Avoid the Valsalva technique if you have allergies or a cold as it may cause ear infections. Instead, try the Toynbee manoeuvre, which includes swallowing multiple times while keeping your mouth and nose shut until the pressure stabilizes.

2. Chewing Gum/Sucking on a Candy

Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy promotes frequent swallowing, which assists in equalizing air pressure.

3. Yawning or Swallowing

Wondering how to get rid of ear pressure after a flight, try yawning or swallowing.

These actions activate the muscles that open the eustachian tubes, allowing air to travel from the back of the nose into the middle ear. This process can produce a clicking or popping sound. The eustachian tube is responsible for keeping the middle ear supplied with air, allowing the inner ear membranes to absorb it. This continuous air cycle maintains air pressure on both sides. To adjust to changes in air pressure when flying, make sure to open your eustachian tubes frequently.

4. Remaining awake during takeoffs and landings

While staying conscious during the rise and descent of the plane, employing self-care methods can be helpful in reducing ear discomfort.

5. Using a nasal spray

Using a nasal spray can be beneficial if you experience nasal congestion. Apply the nasal spray approximately 30 minutes to an hour before the flight or descent.

However, it is advisable to avoid prolonged use of nasal sprays (beyond three to four days) as they can potentially worsen congestion.

6. Take allergy medication

If you have seasonal allergies, taking allergy medication approximately an hour before the flight can help manage symptoms effectively.

7. Earplugs for flying

Do earplugs help when flying? The answer is yes, specifically if you use filtered earplugs. These earplugs gradually balance the pressure against your eardrum when ascending or descending. Nevertheless, yawning and swallowing may still be necessary to relieve pressure.

Airplane ear symptoms

Airplane ear may affect one or both ears and can be identified by the following symptoms:

  • Mild to moderate pain or discomfort
  • Feeling of stuffiness or muffled hearing
  • Slight decline in hearing ability

On the other hand, severe airplane ear is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Intense pain or discomfort
  • Elevated ear pressure
  • Different levels of hearing loss
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ear
  • Vertigo or the feeling of spinning
  • Leakage of blood

Airplane ear complications

Airplane ear is usually a mild condition that can be effectively managed through self-care. However, it is advisable to seek medical advice if you experience severe or prolonged pain or if there is any damage to the structures of the middle or inner ear.

The following are examples of infrequent adverse effects:

  • Permanent hearing loss
  • Tinnitus

A medical professional will examine your ears and may suggest an audiometry test or tympanometry to assess eardrum pressure. Based on the findings, the doctor might recommend treatment options to ease ear pain and discomfort sensations.

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Airplane ear in infants, toddlers, and kids

The change in air pressure during flights can cause significant discomfort in newborns since their eustachian tubes are narrower compared to adults.

So, how to stop children's ears hurting on a plane? To help them swallow and consequently alleviate ear pressure, it is recommended to offer a bottle or a pacifier, particularly during descent.

For older children, providing options like eating a lollipop, drinking through a straw, or blowing bubbles through a straw can help alleviate ear discomfort. Before the trip, it is advisable to consult a doctor about the possibility of using ear drops for pain relief during the journey.

Get in touch with an ear specialist

In case of ear pain during flight, you now know how to avoid it and be better prepared if the problem arises. However, if you still feel blocked ears, experience abnormal hearing, or persistent discomfort many hours after landing, contacting EarPros is recommended.

Book a complimentary session with a certified hearing care specialist today to evaluate whether you have hearing loss. The specialist can assist you in finding the ideal hearing aid to meet your specific requirements.

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