How to drain fluid from ear after a plane ride

Updated February 21, 2017

The pressure that builds within the inner ear during a flight can cause discomfort until the ear adjusts to the outside air pressure. Unfortunately, if you already have fluid in your ear from showering, swimming or from an ear infection, the pain can be intense. The plane ride, itself, will not cause fluid build-up, but it will increase the pressure if the fluid is present. If you’re unable to relieve the pressure during the flight, try a few techniques upon landing to drain the fluid and speed relief.

Give an infant a pacifier or a bottle. Babies are unable to tell you when their ear discomfort becomes intense but by sucking and swallowing, they may be able to “pop” their own ears and relieve the pressure. Hold the infant in a semi-sitting position to encourage drainage.

Allow young children to drink malts and other thick drinks through straws to encourage the same popping effect. In addition, chewing sugarless gum and sucking on lollipops might provide some relief.

Try an alternative remedy for fluid pressure build-up in the ears called Hot Cups. This treatment entails dipping a paper towel in steaming water and wringing it out until it is just damp. Place the hot paper towel into the bottom of a cup and hold the cup over the ear that hurts. The hot towel should not touch the skin but the heat encourages expansion of the inner ear canal and the subsequent drainage of trapped fluid. Press the cup snugly around the ear to allow pressure to build.

Sniff your ear pain away. Your ears connect with your sinus cavities through the Eustachian tubes and sometimes a squirt of a nasal decongestant after landing can release the inner ear pressure.

Use a swimmer’s ear medication if fluid trapped in the ear before flying is now causing a lot of pain. While is best to make sure there is no fluid in the ear before you board the plane, that isn’t always feasible and the result is an inflamed ear canal and pain. Following the manufacturer’s recommendations, place a couple of drops in the offending ear and allow them to absorb the excess fluid.

Try creating your own pressure to pop the fluid build-up in the ear. Some physicians recommend holding your nostrils and eyes closed while “blowing” to counter the pressure in the ears. Do this gently, and the ears will pop quickly if it is going to be effective.

Wear special ear plugs the next time to fly to prevent fluid build-up in the inner ear. Designed to prevent or reduce pressure, these earplugs may alleviate the problem entirely. (See Resources)


Don't put any hot liquids in your ears.

Things You'll Need

  • Baby bottle
  • Pacifier
  • Chewing gum
  • Nasal spray
  • Lollipops
  • Cups
  • Paper towels
  • Swimmer's ear medication
  • Earplugs (for flying)
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About the Author

Glenda Taylor is a contractor and a full-time writer specializing in construction writing. She also enjoys writing business and finance, food and drink and pet-related articles. Her education includes marketing and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.