Ear Problems When on an Airplane

Updated April 17, 2017

Chances are that if you have ever taken a flight, you have experienced discomfort in your ears and felt a "popping.". Air travellers often suffer from ear problems related to the change in altitude and air pressure. However, there are certain things that can be done, such as yawning or chewing gum, that can alleviate ear annoyances when flying.

Airplane Ear

Airplane ear, known also as ear barotrauma or barotitis media, is caused by the change in air pressure when flying. On the ground, the air pressure in the middle ear is identical as the air pressure outside. However, the altitude creates an unequal amount of pressure on the middle ear. Usually the Eustachian tube, which joins the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat, can be counted on to equalise the pressure. If the tube is obstructed, the uneven pressure on the eardrum can hinder hearing and create a ringing noise or dizziness. Usually this condition clears up when you are back on the ground.


Symptoms of aeroplane ear include dizziness, irritation in at least one of the ears, minor trouble hearing, and a feeling of fullness or stuffiness. In more severe instances, symptoms include ear soreness, ear blockage, trouble hearing, and a bloody nose.


After landing, if your symptoms do not clear up shortly and there is still a feeling of pain, contact your physician. If further symptoms arise, such as fever and ear leakage, also consult your doctor. If untreated, aeroplane ear can cause further problems including infection, temporary loss of hearing, and a ruptured eardrum.

How to Alleviate Discomfort

There are certain things that can be done to alleviate ear discomfort when flying. Try swallowing. Swallowing promotes the expansion of the Eustachian tube. Try yawning and chewing gum or sucking on hard candy, especially before the plane takes off or lands. The Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery suggests that if yawning and swallowing do not work, pinch the nostrils close, take in air through the mouth and then guide the air into the back of the nose, almost as if your were blowing your nose gently. Repeat as necessary. Try not to fall asleep during landing because you will not be able to keep pace with the change in pressure.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Decongestant tablets and nasal sprays can be taken about an hour before take off. These assist in shrinking membranes assisting with alleviating ear pressure. Tablets and sprays can be bought without a prescription. However, anyone with heart problems should consult a physician before using. If you recently had ear surgery, check with your doctor to make sure it is advisable to travel by plane. Never use force to try to pop the ears. When travelling with a baby, have him or her take a bottle or suck on a pacifier during the flight to help unblock their ears.

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About the Author

A writing professional with more than 15 years of experience, Steve Repsys is currently employed in a college marketing environment. He is part of a team that produces award-winning publications. He holds a bachelor's degree in communication from Stonehill College and a master's degree in sports marketing from Springfield College.