Takeoff on an airplane can be uncomfortable. Your head feels clogged, you feel a sharp pain in your ears, pressure increases, and then your ears pop. After they pop, it isn’t so bad. But it happens all over again with landing.
Pressure in your ears
When your ears pop, it is the result of a tiny canal in each ear named the eustachian tube. The tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. The tube keeps the pressure in your middle ear equal to the air pressure outside of your body by allowing air to move through the inner ear. But the tubes may struggle to adjust and become blocked, for example, when in a plane, when diving into a pool, or when driving up a mountain.
The eardrum expands outward when the pressure in your head is greater than the pressure outside--this happens during the takeoff of a plane. During the landing, the opposite happens. The pressure outside is greater than in the ear, making the eardrum swell inward. Hearing in both cases becomes difficult. The popping feeling is a result of the ear tubes reopening, equalizing the pressure and helping you to hear again.
Keeping discomfort at bay
Getting your ears to pop can be done by stimulating the muscles in the back of your throat, such as with yawning or swallowing. If you can’t seem to yawn, chew some gum or hard candy to increase swallowing.
Babies and kids experience more pain because their ear tubes are more horizontal than an adult’s, shorter, and narrower, so it can be harder for pressure to equalize. Give older children a lollipop or have them drink through a straw during takeoff and landing, and give babies a pacifier or bottle to encourage swallowing. Instead of using gum or hard candy as an adult, a decongestant or nasal spray before takeoff and descent can help. It reduces swelling and helps your ears to pop.
Hearing safely while traveling
Although rare, if you can’t get your ears to pop, you might get fluid in your ears. You could end up with a perforated eardrum or an ear infection, which might result in hearing loss. But most of the time the popping will occur.
You shouldn’t worry about your ears popping on an airplane. The popping helps to equalize the pressure. The effects should go away once you are back on level ground.
If you would like to know more about hearing loss, please contact your hearing instrument specialist at Pure Sound Hearing Aids.