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Why Do Our Ears Hurt When We Fly?

We all have traveled on a plane a time or two, and the most annoying part of flying, at least for me, is when my ears pop. The cause of this annoyance is based on air pressure. Most of the time the air pressure inside the inner ear and the air pressure outside are essentially the same. However, during air travel, the change in altitude is so rapid that the pressure inside the inner ear and the air pressure outside don’t have time to equalize. When your flight takes off and the plane begins its ascent, the air pressure inside the inner ear quickly surpasses that of the pressure outside, therefore, causing the eardrum to swell outward. Conversely, if the air pressure inside the inner ear rapidly becomes less than the air pressure outside, the eardrum is sucked inward because the Eustachian tube has flattened. Whether ascending or descending, the stretching of the eardrum can cause pain. During this time, the eardrum is not able to vibrate, therefore you may experience a decrease hearing.

To equalize the pressure in your ears while flying, there are several techniques you can use. The first technique is swallowing. When you swallow, that clicking or popping sound you may hear is a tiny bubble of air that has moved from the back of the nose into the middle ear, via the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube ensures that the air in the middle ear is constantly being replenished. When you fly, the trick is to ensure that the Eustachian tube works overtime to accommodate the changes in air pressure. The next technique is chewing gum or sucking on hard candy. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy will stimulate frequent swallowing which helps equalize air pressure. And the final technique is the Valsalva maneuver. With a mouthful of air, close your mouth and pinch your nose shut. Gently force air out until your ears pop. If you are sick with a cold or allergies, the Valsalva maneuver is not recommended, as it could cause a severe ear infection. Instead, try the Toynbee maneuver: close your mouth and nose and swallow several times until pressure equalizes.

Other techniques include:

  • Avoid sleeping during ascent or descent.
  • Drink lots of fluids in-flight to stay hydrated.
  • Yawn.
  • Try EarPlanes, specially designed ear plugs that have a filter to equalize pressure.
  • Use nasal spray 1 hour prior to landing and only as-needed. Overuse of nasal sprays can cause more congestion.
  • Take a decongestant 1 hour before landing and also post-flight until ears normalize.

If you are very sick with a cold, the flu, allergies or congestion, you should consider changing your travel plans if possible. Your illness can cause a blockage in the Eustachian tube, preventing the necessary equalization of pressure during the flight. Due to this blockage, a ruptured eardrum or severe infection could occur which could cause hearing loss or permanent ear damage. If this should happen, or if your hearing doesn’t return to normal within several days post-flight you should consider seeing a hearing healthcare professional. To read the full article, please click on the following link: http://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52447-Airplanes-and-ear-pain-why-it-happens-and-what-you-can-do.

Have a great day and until next time, happy listening.

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