Aeroplane ears? Tips for easing clogged ears on a flight

We've all been there - ears clogging and popping as the plane ascends and descends. While it's a common issue, it can be uncomfortable and even painful for some. 

Don't worry, though! Here are some tips to avoid aeroplane ears and make your flight more enjoyable and prevent hearing loss. Remember, if you're ever concerned about your ears, seeing a hearing care professional and getting a hearing test is best. 

Why do our ears clog on planes? 

The main culprit behind clogged ears on planes, also called “aeroplane ears”, is the change in air pressure. As the plane takes off and lands, the air pressure outside your ear decreases and increases, causing your eardrum to push outward and get sucked inward. This pressure change can be too much for the Eustachian tube, leading to discomfort or even painful barotrauma (aeroplane ears). 

Five Tips to Prevent Clogged Ears 

  1. Buy filtered earplugs: These handy earplugs protect your ears from loud noises and help equalise external air pressure, reducing discomfort. You can often buy them in the airport gift shop.
  2. Swallow, yawn, chew, or suck on candy: These actions stimulate the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes, alleviating inner ear pressure. 
  3. Do the Toynbee Manoeuvre (during take-off): Pinch your nose closed and take a few sips of water simultaneously to equalise ear pressure. 
  4. Do the Valsalva Manoeuvre (during landing): Pinch your nose closed and gently blow air through your nose with a closed mouth to pop clogged ears. 
  5. Take a nasal spray for congestion: If you have a cold, using an over-the-counter nasal spray 30 minutes before take-off and landing can help alleviate pressure. 

Post-flight ear care 

If your ears remain clogged after flying, try the Valsalva or Toynbee manoeuvres again. If those don't work, steam your ears by placing your head over a bowl of boiling water with a towel draped over it. Adding a few drops of lavender oil or eucalyptus can help reduce pain. 

When to consult a hearing care professional 

Aeroplane ears aren't dangerous, but if the pain or clogging persists long after your flight and you can't make your ears pop, it's a good idea to consult a hearing care professional and get a hearing test

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about airplane ears

Airplane ears, also known as ear barotrauma, occur when the air pressure in your middle ear and the atmospheric pressure outside your ear are imbalanced. When you're on an airplane, the cabin pressure changes rapidly during takeoff and landing, causing the eustachian tubes in your ears to struggle to equalize the pressure. This results in the sensation of your ears popping. 

To alleviate airplane ears, you can try the following techniques:

  • Swallowing: Swallowing can help open the eustachian tubes and equalize the pressure.
  • Yawning: Yawning can also help to open the eustachian tubes and relieve pressure.
  • Valsalva maneuver: Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and gently blow as if trying to blow your nose. This can help force air into the eustachian tubes and equalize pressure.
  • Toynbee maneuver: Pinch your nose and swallow, which can help open the eustachian tubes and equalize pressure.
  • Earplugs: Some specialized earplugs are designed to regulate pressure and may help relieve airplane ears. 
The duration of airplane ear varies from person to person. In most cases, the symptoms resolve on their own within a few hours after the flight. However, in some cases, it might take a few days for the pressure to fully equalize and the discomfort to subside. If you continue to experience discomfort or symptoms worsen after a few days, it's best to consult a healthcare professional. 

If your ears are still clogged after a flight, you can try the following techniques:

  • Continue using the Valsalva or Toynbee maneuvers mentioned earlier.
  • Use a warm compress: Place a warm, damp cloth over the affected ear, which may help to relieve congestion and open the eustachian tubes.
  • Take an over-the-counter decongestant: Decongestants may help reduce inflammation and open the eustachian tubes. Follow the directions on the package and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help keep your mucous membranes moist and functioning properly.
  • Avoid lying down: Sitting or standing upright can help facilitate the opening of the eustachian tubes. 

If your symptoms persist or worsen, it's important to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment. 

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