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How To Prevent Pain The Ear When You Are In The Plane?

December 14th, 2011 · 5 Comments ·


I just touched down not long ago.  In the flight, I was sitting next to a mother who had his boy next to her.  Throughout the 45-minute of journey, the boy was sick and crying.  For people who did know what happen, they might get annoyed.  The truth is that the boy was suffering pain in his ears, which is very common among kids.  In fact, at least one third of adult passengers feel the ear pain too, including myself.  If you are one of us, read on to find out why this pain happen and how to prevent or minimize the pain.

First, let’s understand how our ears function in normal circumstances and then only we find out how they are affected when we are in the plane.  Under normal situation, air flow through the Eustachian tube inside the ear.  The air on both sides of the eardrum should be the same.


When the airplane takes off or landing, because of rapid change in altitude or air pressure, you will have unequal pressure between your middle ear and air outside of your ear.

When you have cold, Eustachian tube is often blocked by mucus or blocked by swollen adenoids (lumps of immune system tissue located near the openings of the tube).  Because the air is dry in the cabin, nasal mucus will thicken.  Coupled with the change of air pressure in cabin, during plane take offs or landings, Eustachian tubes often become even narrow, restricting the amount of air flowing into the ear.

This pain is what is known as Pain In The Ear, Airplane Ear or barotrauma, more scientifically.  It is most severe during landing when the air pressure increases.  You may experience “temporary deafness” (up to few hours after the flight) or partial blockage in your nose.  In worse case, some people suffer loss of hearing for several days.


In addition to pain, uneven pressure in ears may lead to an infection if the middle ear is filled with fluid.  If infection happens, you have to take antibiotics.

Now, I hope that you can sympathize to kids.  The weird ear-popping sensation is indeed odd or even scary for them.

How To Prevent Clogged Ears in Plane

  1. Try to chew a gum or suck a sweetSipping of water, swallowing saliva or yawning frequently will help too, though it may be difficult to keep doing so.  For kids, given them a pacifier and ensure they are sitting upright. All these actions will force the muscles in the Eustachian tube to contract and open to allow air to flow into or outs of your middle ear.  By doing so, the pressure can be equalized.  Therefore, when the ears “pop”, thing is back to normal.  However, when you have cold, because the tube is already blocked, this method may not work for you.
  2. Do not sleep when the plane is landing.  During sleep, you will not swallow as often, so it is difficult to keep the air pressure in the middle ear equalized.
  3. Another method which works well for me is to pinch the nose and close the mouth while exhaling through nostril forcibly.  You will hear the “popping” sound.  With that, the pressure is equalized inside your ear.  Experts name this method as “Valsalva maneuver”.  As advised by one of the readers, people who suffer from heart problem should NOT use this method.


  4. I have seen people getting hot wet papers into 2 plastic or Styrofoam cups, place over their ears and then keep humming.  The steam seep from the paper towels into the ear.  Some claim that this method helps, some do not find it works.
  5. Some people use nasal decongestant spray or nose drop.  Use it an hour before the flight or throughout the landing.  One good brand is Sudafad.  This spray helps to dry up mucus.
  6. Consider using earplugs (known as Earplane) which many frequent fliers have found great result.  They look like earplugs but have a weirder looking.  By restricting the flow of air to the eardrum, which gives the inner ear more time to adjust for changes in pressure.


    • To ensure these plugs really work, make sure they are sealed properly all around the ear canal.  Even a small gap may cause the earplane to fail.  So, do not use those adult earplanes for your kid.  Use the child size earplanes.
    • The other thing is that you need to put these Earplane plugs in before the plane takes off and only take them off until the plan has landed.  Some people take them off 10 minutes later after they see the seat belt sign turn off.  If you do that too, remember to have them back in before the plane is starting to descent.  If you want to sleep, better put them in before you sleep so that you do not have the same eat pain when you wake up.  You may get uncomfortable during long flight with Earplane, but it is better than having serious pain for 2 days.
  7. Some people take Paracetamol or Ibuprofen at least an hour before landing.  I do not recommend you to do so.  Try the above few methods before you resort to this method.

If you have ear infection or serious cold, I recommend you to delay flying if you cannot stand for the pain.


Actually, besides flying, activities such as climbing a mountain, scuba diving or riding in lift, air pressure goes down when you higher and it increases when you go lower.  Ear pain also happens while sitting in a car which come down from a steep mountain quickly with the window rolled up.  Leave a crack in the window when descending or climbing a steep mountain will help.




Category: Other Fitness/Sports Articles

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5 responses so far ↓
  • ahsiang // Dec 14, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    Usually I will take Clarinase pill, which works like nasal decongestant spray or nose drop but less irritation of nasal decongestant spray or nose drop.

  • Francine Eisner, RN // Dec 16, 2011 at 1:56 AM

    Please do not use the valsalva maneuver. This can cause heart attacks…!

  • PJPaix // Dec 16, 2011 at 2:04 AM

    Yawning. It works every time for me.

  • jazzu // Dec 19, 2011 at 6:44 AM

    Combine the Valsalva maneuver with leaning your ear towards your shoulder one side at a time. This movement opens up the Eustachian tube on the streching side and eases the manual ear popping to such a degree, that there’s no considerable effort involved. Otherwise, you might have to put quite a lot of pressure behind your closed nostrils, which may be very painful, and potentially harmful in itself.

    This trick was taught to me by a diving instructor, after I complained about my difficulties at equalising pressure while diving. Lo and behold – no more problems, anywhere!

  • Francine Eisner, RN // Dec 19, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    Sorry guys, it is really irresponsible of you at MunFitnessBlog to suggest the use of the valsalva maneuver. Pain in the ear is nothing compared to the possibility of a heart attack. Many people do not know they have a heart condition until their first heart attack. Please consult a doctor before posting things of this kind, ok?

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