Ear pain during and after a flight — also known as “airplane ear” — is often considered a trivial part of travel. That’s a small price to pay when soaring through the air to your destination.
But anyone who regularly experiences ear pain, pressure, or congestion knows that the discomfort can easily ruin an entire flight and even lead to pain and hearing loss in the first few days after landing.
So what causes airplane ear, and how can you prevent it? Let’s take a look at what experts say are the causes of popping ears after a flight and some remedies.
You may notice that you are sore or clogged after each flight, while your travel companions are completely unaffected by the pressure changes. Those with the common cold, acute or chronic sinusitis, seasonal allergies, middle ear infections, or a tendency to nap on airplanes, especially during periods of rapid stress changes, will be more Prone to earache than fellow travelers.
But what’s the scientific reason for some clogged ears? “Because the inner ear’s pressure relief system balances the pressure on the eardrum (Eustachian tube), some travelers experience ear pain or blockage,” explains Dr. Bob Bacheler, DNP, CFRN, CCRN, flight physiology educator and managing director of Flying Angels, Inc.
“The inner ear is much better at balancing decompression (ascending) than relieving it (descending). This is the exact same reason many babies start crying when a plane lands.”
Whether you’re a frequent traveler experiencing seasonal allergies, like to doze off on planes, or just have bad luck with sore ears, there are some tips and tricks to help relieve congestion and stress.
EarPlanes brand earplugs are common among frequent travelers and can prevent earaches. Plugs relieve air pressure discomfort by slowing down changes in the air pressure that reaches your ear. The slower the pressure changes, the less pressure is placed on the eardrum and the less overall discomfort.
However, you must use them correctly. Before your flight, you should pinch your nose, close your mouth and blow gently through your nose to relieve any existing pressure in your ears. After relieving pressure, lift your ear, insert the plug and rotate until a snug fit is achieved.
Here’s a classic traveler trick: chewing gum. By chewing gum or swallowing, it helps your ears pop while you’re in the air. It might not completely solve your earache problem, but it can help.
“Along with other precautions, I recommend chewing gum,” says Phil Dengler, co-owner of The Vacationer. “I’ve found that chewing gum alone is not enough to completely prevent severe ear pain while flying.”
For those looking for a tasty and helpful tool when it comes to alleviating ear pain, turn to Children’s Therapy. If you’re constantly stuck with airplane earbuds, lollipops can be a great staple to keep in your travel makeup bag.
“While gum can help, we’re always worried about the danger of choking, so we tend to carry lollipops, which stimulate oral secretions and pressure balance,” says Dr. bachelor. “Lollipops are less likely to choke than chewing gum, but you have to be careful with anyone with an impaired gag reflex.”
In addition to techniques like using earplugs, chewing gum, and eating a lollipop, there are natural remedies that experts recommend for earache relief. Here are some of the best natural remedies to try on your next flight.
It’s a simple technique that involves blowing through your nose while pinching the nostrils. If you apply enough pressure, you’ll feel your ears pop as air is pushed into the middle ear. This allows the pressure in the inner ear to equalize with the surrounding atmosphere and helps the pain go away.
“Every time I get ear pain on a long flight, I start doing the Valsalva maneuver,” says Kevin Mercier, founder of Kevmrc Travel. “I repeat the process a few times and it usually relieves the ear pain.”
Yawning or opening your mouth as wide as you can might make you look a little silly on a flight, but it’s a good natural choice that often helps relieve clogged ears, says Dr. bachelor. If you’re looking for how to prick up your ears after a flight, this might be one of the easiest solutions.
“Yawning helps open the Eustachian tubes, which equalizes pressure,” he explained.
drink and eat
Even if you have ear pain, drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthy snacks should be a priority before and during your flight.
Mercier recommends regular drinking and eating to help relieve ear pressure caused by altitude changes. Plus, he says doing so keeps blood sugar levels steady.
stay awake during takeoff and landing
If you’re someone who falls asleep on a plane, you’re likely to experience ear pain more often than other travelers. You don’t have to force yourself to stay awake during the flight, but you should try to do so when the plane takes off and approaches your final destination.
The longer the plane is at cruising altitude, the drier the air is and the more moisture is removed from the passenger air, said Dr. bachelor. So, for longer flights, you’re more likely to experience drier air. But some planes are built with better technology that reduces drastic changes in air humidity.
“Composite aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 both have higher humidity levels and lower cabin pressure than other traditional material (aluminum) aircraft,” said Dr. Bachelor explained.
In the upcoming trip, if you can choose the plane flexibly, Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 will be your best choices to further prevent earaches.
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