Written by Asha Sampath | 
Medically Reviewed by dr. reeja tharu, M.Phil.,Ph.D on Jun 20, 2014

Ear aches during Air Travel

'Popping' of ears and earaches because ears do not 'pop,' are common ailments of air travel. It is worse when one has a cold as the ears are blocked. The reason why most babies and young children wail during takeoff and landing of flights is due to such ear discomfort.


Air travel involves rapid changes in air pressure and this causes a difference in air pressure within the ears. This in turn, manifests as these temporary but uncomfortable ear conditions. To remain comfortable, pressure changes on both sides of the eardrum (the inner ear and outer ear) must be equalized. For this, the Eustachian tube within each ear must open frequently and wide enough. The best method to ensure this is yawning! So, yawn as often as you can!

Another method is swallowing. Chewing gum or toffee enables continuous swallowing and that is why airlines offer toffees just before takeoff!

If yawns and swallows do not do the trick, here is another way to combat this discomfort and unblock your ears:

  • Shut your nostrils using the thumb and fore - finger.
  • Suck in a mouthful of air.
  • Now, force the air into the back of your nose as if trying to blow your thumb and finger off your nostrils.

If you hear a loud pop in your ears, you have successfully unblocked your ears! (You may have to repeat this quite often during takeoff or landing.)

For babies, the best bet is to let them suck on a bottle or pacifier; they must be dissuaded from sleeping, especially during descent.

A word of caution:

  • While inflating your ears, do not use force. The correct technique is to create pressure using the cheek and throat muscles.
  • Postpone an airplane trip if you have a bad cold, sinusitis or have recently undergone an ear surgery.

References:

  1. Medical Advice for Commercial Air Travelers - (http://www.aafp.org/afp/990901ap/801.html)
  2. Health and Travel Tips - (http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/onboard/healthtips.html)

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