airplane-1192080-mWe’ve all been there before. The plane begins to descend into Orlando International Airport – you’re home. As your flight comes to an end, a large amount of pressure is put on your body, and suddenly you feel intense ear pain and experience ear popping. This is known as airplane ear and it can become quite severe for many passengers. So what is it and what can you do to help prevent airplane ear pain?

In normal conditions, air pressure on either side of the eardrum should be equal. Airplane ear is caused by unequal pressure that develops between the air in the middle ear and the air outside the ear. The space in the middle ear behind the eardrum is connected to the back of the nose by a tiny channel called the Eustachian tube.

During a plane’s descent, the air pressure pushes the eardrum inward. Unless equal air pressure travels up the Eustachian tube, the result – airplane ear – can be painful.

How Can I Prevent Ear Pain While Flying?

To equalize the pressure in your ears, you need to allow more air to pass through the Eustachian tube. This can be done in several ways, including:

  • Eating Something. Air is more likely to flow up the Eustachian tube if you swallow, yawn or chew. This is why a flight attendant will offer you a snack, like peanuts. Gum is also helpful.
  • Breathe Using the Valsalva Maneuver. This involves taking a breath in and then gently letting the breath out with your mouth closed and while pinching your nose. This will push air into the Eustachian tube and you may hear a ‘pop’ as air enters the middle ear. This is effectively how you pop your ears.
  • Stay Awake. If you are sleeping, you are unable to take precautions necessary to prevent these symptoms and may wake up to pain.

Why Are Some People Affected, But Not Others?

In some people, their Eustachian tube does not open as easily as others, preventing the flow of air. This may be the result of a narrow tube or a condition that causes the tube to become blocked. Blockage of the Eustachian tube is generally the result of mucus or inflammation caused by a cold, throat infection, or the flu. For people with these conditions, they should try these options to relieve air pressure when flying:

  • Take an Antihistamine. This will reduce the amount of mucus you produce and limit blockage.
  • Use a Decongestant Nasal Spray. This will dry up the mucus, also reducing the blockage of your Eustachian tube.
  • Wear Pressure Regulating Ear Plugs. Because the air pressure changes quickly during the descent, the plugs will slow the amount of air that enters the ear and puts pressure on the eardrum.

If ear pain or dulled hearing does not clear within a few days of your trip, be sure to Schedule an Appointment with a Specialist at The Ear, Nose, Throat, & Plastic Surgery Associates.