Traveling is for the most part great. There's the anticipation and great expectations for your destination, and the wonderful time you're going to have (at least if you're going on vacation). Then there are the practicalities and the journey itself, and the possible discomfort.
Traveling by plane could be uncomfortable for your ears
Not only because of the loud whirring of the engine, but also because flying often causes our ears to block and causes discomfort or sometimes even pain.
The reason is that the air pressure outside your ear decreases when the plane takes off. And when it lands, the air pressure increases. In practical terms, that means during take-off the air inside your ear pushes outward towards the eardrum. And during landing, the eardrum gets sucked inward. These changes in the air pressure are too much to handle for the Eustachian tube, which normally helps to equalise pressure.
For some people, this pressure is just uncomfortable. For others, it's downright painful. This painful condition is called barotrauma - or, in layman's terms, airplane ears.
Here's how to prevent painful or clogged ears when flying.
1. Bring filtered earplugs
Not only do they protect your ears from the loud noise, they also help stagger the external air pressure and reduce pains.
2. Swallow, yawn, chew or suck on candy
Swallowing, yawning, chewing or sucking stimulates the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes and can alleviate the pressure in the inner ears.
3. During take-off: Do the Toynbee
The Toynbee manoeuvre is a technique that helps equalise the pressure in your ears. Pinch your nose closed and take a few sips of water at the same time.
4. During landing: Do the Valsalva
The Valsalva manoeuvre is most commonly used among divers to make clogged ears pop and equalize pressure. Pinch your nose closed and softly blow air through your nose (as when blowing your nose) with a closed mouth. If it doesn't work, try again later.
5. If you're flying with clogged ears or nose
If your ears and nose happen to be blocked from a cold on the day of your flight, you could use an over-the-counter nasal spray about half an hour before take-off and landing to alleviate the pressure. Remember to put it in a clear plastic bag along with other liquid toiletries or medications you may bring with you past the security check.
You could also consider changing your travel plans, if possible. Change your flight or find another form of transportation that will get you there painlessly.
If your ears continue to be clogged after flying
You don't have to wait it out. After all, you might just be in town for the weekend and you want to make the most of it, right? You can try the Valsalva or the Toynbee once again, and if those don't work, try to steam your ears.
Put boiling water in a bowl and create a tent over it with a towel. Place your head inside the tent and inhale the steam to help equalize the pressure in your ear. You can also add a few drops of lavender oil or eucalyptus to reduce the pain.
Airplane ears is not dangerous. But if the ear pain or clogging continues for a long time after your flight, and you can't make your ears pop, it's a good idea to consult your doctor.
Have a comfortable journey!