Have you ever wondered why your ears pop when you fly on an airplane? Or why, when they fail to pop, you get an earache? Have you ever wondered why the babies on an airplane fuss and cry so much during descent?
Ear problems are the most common medical complaint of airline travelers, and while they are usually simple, minor annoyances, they occasionally result in temporary pain and hearing loss.
How Does Air Pressure Affect the Ear?
It is the middle ear that causes discomfort during air travel, because it is an air pocket inside the head that is vulnerable to changes in air pressure.
Normally, when you swallow your ears make a little click or popping sound. This occurs because a small bubble of air has entered your middle ear, up from the back of your nose. It passes through the Eustachian tube, a membrane-lined tube about the size of a pencil lead that connects the back of the nose with the middle ear. The air in the middle ear is constantly being absorbed by its membranous lining and resupplied through the Eustachian tube. In this manner, air pressure on both sides of the eardrum stays about equal. If and when the air pressure is not equal, the ear feels blocked.
How Can Air Travel Cause Ear Problems?
Air travel is sometimes associated with rapid changes in air pressure. To maintain comfort, the Eustachian tube must open frequently and wide enough to equalize the changes in pressure. This is especially true when the airplane is landing, going from low atmospheric pressure to higher pressure closer to earth.
Actually, any situation in which rapid altitude or pressure changes occur creates the problem. You may have experienced it when riding in elevators or when diving to the bottom of a swimming pool. Deep-sea divers are taught how to equalize their air pressures; so are pilots. You can learn the tricks, too.
How to Unblock Your Ears
Swallowing activates the muscle that opens the Eustachian tube. You swallow more often when you chew gum or let mints melt in your mouth. These are good air travel practices, especially just before takeoff and during descent. Yawning is even better. Avoid sleeping during descent, because you may not be swallowing often enough to keep up with the pressure changes.
If yawning and swallowing are not effective, unblock your ears as follows:
- Step 1: Pinch your nostrils shut..
- Step 2: Take a mouthful of air.
- Step 3: Using your cheek and throat muscles, force the air into the back of your nose as if you were trying to blow your thumb and fingers off your nostrils.
When you hear a loud pop in your ears, you have succeeded. You may have to repeat this several times during descent.
Babies cannot intentionally pop their ears, but popping may occur if they are sucking on a bottle or pacifier. Feed your baby during the flight, and do not allow him or her to sleep during descent.
- When inflating your ears, you should not use force. The proper technique involves only pressure created by your cheek and throat muscles.
- If you have a cold, sinus infection, or an allergy attack, it is best to postpone an airplane trip.
- If you recently have undergone ear surgery, consult with your surgeon on how soon you may safely fly.
What About Decongestants and Nose Sprays?
Many experienced air travelers use a decongestant pill or nasal spray an hour or so before descent. This will shrink the membranes and help the ears pop more easily. Travelers with allergy problems should take their medication at the beginning of the flight for the same reason.
Decongestant tablets and sprays can be purchased without a prescription. However, they should be avoided by people with heart disease, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, thyroid disease, or excessive nervousness. Such people should consult their physicians before using these medicines. Pregnant women should likewise consult their physicians first.
If Your Ears Will Not Unblock
Even after landing you can continue the pressure equalizing techniques, and you may find decongestants and nasal sprays to be helpful. (However, avoid making a habit of nasal sprays. After a few days, they may cause more congestion than they relieve). If your ears fail to open, or if pain persists, you will need to seek the help of a physician who has experience in the care of ear disorders. He/she may need to release the pressure or fluid with a small incision in the eardrum.
Our experts can evaluate your ears, discuss your symptoms, and provide a solution to meet your individual needs. If you have questions or are experiencing difficulty with your ears, contact us today to talk about your specific problem or to schedule an appointment.
Why Does My Ear Feel Clogged?
Ear clogging or ear blockage doesn’t always cause pain but the muffin sounds can be a real nuisance. It occurs due to many reasons.
- Eustachian Tube Blockage
- Higher Altitude
- Acoustic Neuroma
Eustachian Tube Blockage
A Eustachian tube blockage is the major cause of clogged ears. It is an auditory tube connecting the middle ear to the throat. It helps in the proper flow of mucus and fluid from ear to the back of the throat. Sometimes this flow stops in the middle ear that leads to ear blockage. It results in an ear infection like common cold, influenza etc.
- A Runny Nose
- A sore Throat
This blockage needs to be stopped since it can cause a severe ear infection. An ear infection can also take place due to swimming and water collects in an ear called Swimmer’s ear.
Some people experience ear clogging while driving up in hilly areas or traveling in a plane. This is because of change in instant air pressure. A Eustachian Tube helps in equalizing this pressure in the middle ear. But at higher altitude, it can’t function properly.
- A headache
- Breathe shortage
Earwax plays a vital role in protecting your ear canal by blocking the entry of debris in the ear. It helps in cleaning your ear canal. Earwax is soft but sometimes it hardens. This building of earwax causes ear blockage. Using cotton swabs to clean your ear can be risky and even push earwax deep into your ear.
- An earache
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus).
It is a benign growth takes place in the cranial nerve joining inner ear to the brain. This tumor is small but when become large puts pressure on a nerve in the inner ear. Gradually, it results in ear clogging.
- Sinus Infection
- Earwax Build-up
- Mucus Build-up
What To Do In Case You Can’t Pop your Ears?
When you are not able to pop your ears and your pain has been exceeded at least for two weeks. In such a case, don’t be late to consult your doctor. He may tell you about the underlying conditions responsible for this sensation.
- Ear infection
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder(TMJ)
How Does Ear Popping Work?
The Eustachian Tube helps to maintain an equal amount of air pressure on both sides of the eardrum. It is done by supplying air to the middle ear. There is a bulging of an eardrum in case of unequal pressure. It results in the feeling of fullness in the ear.
Popping your ears helps to move the eardrum back into its place. This eliminates discomfort. When you yawn, swallow or blow your nose, you hear clicking sound that’s what we call ear popping.
When these motions take place, the eustachian tube opens automatically. The popping sound that you hear now is due to the entry of air in the middle ear through eustachian tube.
How To Pop Your Ears Safely
Sometimes, you need to take a large yawn to open your clogged ears. If you can not yawn like real one then you can act like you are yawning. You can do this several times if the first one is not working. You will not only feel your ears open but also you will start hearing more clear sounds than you did when they are filled up.
Swallowing is an effortless technique when your ears feel clogged. When you swallow something, your mouth muscles automatically starts working to open your Eustachian tube, so that the pressure which was build up equalizes and become normal.
There are some auxiliary steps also which helps to pop your ears:
- First, you need to close your mouth and hold your nose, then,
- Turn your head to the right, so that your chin must touch your shoulder,
- Swallow hard so that your left ear pop,
- Now turn your head to the left side, so that your chin must touch your shoulder, and lastly,
- Swallow hard so that your right ear pop.
Chew a gum
While chewing a piece of gum, your mouth will remain in a motion and that motion will help to regularize the pressure between the two ears. You could use this technique in the beginning, to avoid your ears to be filled up, which means, you can chew a piece of gum before taking off.
If you don’t have anything then start acting like you are chewing something. This makes a sense of laughing at yourself, but it works.
Drink a glass of water
Take a glass filled with water. Sit in a relax motion and tilt your head towards the position of your auditory tube and take large sips to equalize the pressure in your ear. Your ear will unclog automatically if done correctly.
It definitely sounds you very difficult but it’s a very easy way of poping. It usually takes a few seconds and can be done sitting or lying down. You have to pinch your nose first and after that close your mouth and start exhaling gently. Don’t breathe so hard that your eardrum damages.
In this technique, you need to close your nose and drink a glass filled with liquid. Water is more preferable but instead of it, you can take any liquid which you think you are more comfortable in that situation. The survey has found that this technique is more effective than Valsalva Maneuver.
Home Remedies Used For Popping Your Ears
As we all know that ear congestion is a most common cause for the blockage of the auditory tube. To remove out or clear out the infection, take the hot glass of water. The heat must suit your throat. Take a spoonful of salt and mix it in your glass of water. Then start gurgling again and again till your glass becomes empty. Repeat this process after a break.
Take a large bowl and start pouring the steam water into it. Add little amount of tea tree oil or lavender essential oil. Inhale the steam with your head covered until your ears open. This technique is also an essential way to get free yourself with your stuffed ears when you are suffering from the cold.
To remove the fluid from your ear an get through the pain, hold the cloth which is dipped nicely in the bowl of the hot water, near each ear for 5-6 mins. If you are suffering from the sinus problem then this hot compress will be very useful for treatment.
4 Common Causes of Ear Pressure
- Ear infection. This is the classic with ear pain and hearing loss and may accompany an upper respiratory illness.
- Sinus infection/nasal congestion. Nasal congestion associated with allergy or sinus infection can block the drainage pathway from the ear into the throat and create ear pressure and possibly hearing loss if fluid develops in the middle ear.
- Musculoskeletal inflammation or pain. Interestingly, for adults, the most common reason for ear pain without hearing loss is TMD, also known as TMJ, or problems with the jaw joint just in front of the ear. The brain will often interpret this as an ear problem when it may be related to tight muscles and grinding or clenching of the teeth. This usually responds to use of a bite guard and warm compresses with head/neck/face/shoulder massage therapy.
- Hearing loss. It is very common for hearing loss to present as a sensation of pressure in the ear. Hearing loss can make one feel that the ear just needs to pop and clear and all will be well. This is only true if the hearing loss is related to pressure or fluid affecting the motion of the eardrum in response to sound. When hearing loss is caused by nerve damage, no amount of popping or clearing will clear things up.
On the way back to earth, you’ll be traveling at around 120mph. That’s pretty fast!
That, of course, has the opposite effect of going up in the airplane. Your ears will feel the changing air pressure on the way down, just as they do on the way up, but this time, the change is happening much faster.
Think about it this way; the air is thinner higher up, so the pressure outside your ears is less than inside, meaning there is a push from the inside to the outside as the two try to equalize. As you come down, the air is getting thicker and the pressure is more than inside your ears, meaning the push goes the other way.
Physically, this feels like your ears are filling up, and it can make it harder to hear. But don’t worry, it’s only temporary…