Ever wonder why babies scream, or people try to yawn or chew gum when a plane takes off and lands? It has to do with the thin passageways called Eustachian tubes, linking your middle ear, back of your nose, and your upper throat, regulating the pressure in your middle ears. Normally the air pressure inside the inner ear and the air pressure outside are essentially the same, or at least not different enough to cause any trouble. A problem only occurs when the change in altitude is so rapid, like it is in air travel, that the pressure inside the inner ear and the air pressure outside don’t have time to equalize.
When a plane takes off, air pressure drops, this makes it easier for air to escape from your middle ears causing an imbalance. As the plane lands and outside air pressure rapidly increases, too much air can enter into your middle ears. In either of these instances, your ears might feel plugged, which can dull sound and cause discomfort or pain.
You can become especially vulnerable when you have a cold, allergies, or any congestion issues. This can cause the infection or inflammation to make your Eustachian tubes swell and trap fluid, leading to pressure and pain. In an extreme case, the pressure could lead to a perforated eardrum. If you’re going to be flying while congested, taking a decongestant an hour before takeoff and landing can clear you and your Eustachian tubes up, possibly helping you sidestep this issue.
If you’re prone to ear clogging or pain on planes, try swallowing or chewing gum during takeoff and landing. This naturally opens up the Eustachian tubes, allowing the air in your middle ear to equalize, but if you have continuous pain or loss of hearing come see us at the Ear, Nose and Throat Institute. Let us help you enjoy your summer, with same-day appointments we can get you in and feeling better in no time!