Ear Pressure on Flights
November 29, 2004 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Is there something I can do so that I do not have excruciating pain in my ears when landing during a commercial flight?

For some reason this has always caused me a lot of pain and it seems that no amount of chewing gum/stretching the jaw/holding my nose and blowing/praying for a quick death will help. Does this happen to anyone else? And if so has anyone managed to do anything about it? I am worried about permanent hearing loss/ear damage and now that I live across the country from my family I fly a lot.
posted by xmutex to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by trondant at 9:39 AM on November 29, 2004

Holding your nose and closing your mouth while blowing (Valsalva maneuver) is the usual method for clearing your ears. However, if you have had a serious throat infection in the past, the Eustachian tubes (they connect the throat to the middle ear) can become blocked with scar tissue.

During a lot of work in altitude chambers, I learned to overcome the blocked tube problem by tilting my head while doing a Valsalva M. If you tilt your head toward the front of one shoulder while blowing, that stretches the throat tissue on the opposite side and usually opens the entry to the Eustachian tube. Sometimes it requires up to 15 seconds of steady stretch and pressure to work, but it will usually result in air getting into the middle ear and equalizing pressure. You then repeat this process for the other side.

If you had trouble equalizing pressure while climbing to altitude as well as descending, then I would suspect that the opening to the E. tube was blocked. However, this does not seem to be the case.
posted by RMALCOLM at 9:45 AM on November 29, 2004

I use a combination of the aforementioned Earplanes, chewing gum and decongestants (preferably nasal spray). None of them proved sufficient alone and I've resigned myself to having to use all three.
posted by tommasz at 9:47 AM on November 29, 2004

I also used to have problems during landing, and also when diving below about 30 feet. It sounds strange, but if you practice the valsalva maneuver (Good PDF here) enough, you can learn to do it without actually holding your nose and looking like an idiot on a plane.

I also find that chewing gum (throughout the flight) and yawning are a great help.
posted by bh at 9:58 AM on November 29, 2004

My trick:
I always equalize pressure by holding my nose, closing my mouth and attempting to exhale. You hear a little squeak or pop as the excess air goes out your ears. Pain ceases immediately for me. I am not an MD but I play one online.

Some Web resources:
Chew Gum
posted by HyperBlue at 10:01 AM on November 29, 2004

I second the nasal spray. That's the only thing that's ever worked for me. I keep that stuff on me whenever I fly and hit myself up with it about the time we hit cruising altitude.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:07 AM on November 29, 2004

Yeah, congestion can play a big role in your ear pressure...whenever I've got to fly and I've even got a hint of a cold or congestion, I make sure to load up on the Sudafed and Afrin. Helps a lot.
posted by LairBob at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2004

Yawning works for me. I've gotten to the point where I can do the first part of the yawn that pops my ears without doing a full-blown yawn (so I don't have to open my mouth). Works on elevators too.
posted by Jim Jones at 10:20 AM on November 29, 2004

When I've had crushing pain in my ears after flying, it's been because I've had a cold and/or ear infection. Maybe you should get a doctor to check your ears; you may have a chronic problem that's being aggravated by flying. Normally I can tolerate the changing air pressure with minimal discomfort so serious wishing-for-death pain seems to me to imply something else going on.

(And I do the yawning thing, and usually ask for a cup of ice chips to suck on.)
posted by tracicle at 11:02 AM on November 29, 2004

I have the same problem. I tried Earplanes once and found they made the problem worse.

The only time I never noticed the pain is when I used my layover in Charlotte to load up on Gin and Valium and knocked myself out until I landed at Gatwick.
posted by pieoverdone at 11:12 AM on November 29, 2004

The problem I have - once out of every 20 flights or so - is what I imagine is sinus pain...a shooting agonizing pain behind an eyeball - all I can do is rub the skin on my face around the painful area, but of course what I really want to do is claw through my face to get at the painful spot. It is usually excruciating for a few minutes, once we reach a low enough altitude it seems to go away.

But there can be residue of the pain for several days afterwards.

posted by stevil at 11:27 AM on November 29, 2004


You already know how. Try getting yourself going and you're bound to bring on a real deep one after a couple of tries. Not only does it open your jaw way up, which can relieve pressure on your ear canal, there's something about the inhalation of air that clears things right up. There is nothing better.


Try hard candies. They make you swallow a lot.
posted by scarabic at 12:33 PM on November 29, 2004

Earplanes, chewing gum, eucalyptus oil, yawning, valsalva maneuver, nasal spray, blowing my nose vigorously, hard massage along the line between my ear and the edge of my jaw.

I generally do Earplanes and chewing gum prophylactically; the rest are in the order in which I resort to them. If all of those fail, a long hot shower--as hot as I can stand it--often works once I get home or to the hotel.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:25 PM on November 29, 2004

I have that problem as well, and yea, making sure I'm not congested helps. However, I don't always remember to take sudafed or whatnot before the flights; I find that closing my eyes and focusing on the pain makes it a little more tolerable.
posted by hopeless romantique at 3:06 PM on November 29, 2004

I don't have this problem with flights, but rather with Scuba Diving. I've tried various solutions to the problem including a topical steroid. Some people swear by sudafed. What worked best for me is 12 hour Afrin. Works like a champ for me. It all depends on the reason your ears are blocking.
posted by Eekacat at 7:06 PM on November 29, 2004

All of the above. I use Earplanes and it has been years since I've had significant pain on a flight (note: I have to insert them a good 90 minutes before landing or the they lose effectiveness).

Everyone's head is different, so experiment with a combination of the suggestions on this page. I even have to use different techniques on each of my ears: swallowing for my right ear, yawning for the left, chewing to aid both. I personally dislike nasal sprays, because the sinuses feel worse once the medicine wears off.

Useful tip for chewing: I switched from gum to Mentos to give my jaw some extra oomph. Biting hard helps bust through any congestion.
posted by werty at 5:34 AM on November 30, 2004

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