Why do ears pop on planes? The medical reasons and if you should be worried

Many of us know that uncomfortable feeling when you’re on an aeroplane and your ears start to pop.

The weird popping sensation, sometimes called “aeroplane ear”, mostly happens during take off and landing but, is it normal? And what is the medical reason behind it?

We take a look at just what causes your ears to pop on a plane, as well as sharing some tips on how to help you prevent it and relieve your eardrums during a flight…

Why does it happen?

Aeroplane ear is all to do with the sudden change in altitude.

When a plane takes off or lands, the air pressure in the cabin changes in a very short space of time, meaning the air trapped in your inner ear is now different to the air around you and will push on your eardrums.

This causes the popping sensation, which in some cases, can be painful.

Why do ears pop on planes? The medical reasons and if you should be worried
© Getty Images/iStockphoto Ear popping usually only causes temporary discomfort and symptoms go away once the plane lands (stock image)

How can I relieve my ears from popping?

A few tips that help to ease the air pressure in your ears include:

  • Yawning – This motion opens the tiny passageway in your ears which allows the air pressure to equalise

  • Swallowing – Sucking on sweets, chewing gum or sipping water can help you to swallow which regulates air pressure

  • Don’t fly when you have a cold or sinus infection – Congestion can affect the pressure in your ear making “aeroplane ear” worse

  • Stay awake – Try not to nod off during take-off and landing so that you can yawn and swallow to help keep your eardrums open

  • Do the “Valsalva maneuver” – This is a technique that you can use during take-off and landing to ease the pressure in your ears: Pinch your nostrils closed, close your mouth and gently blow

When should I be worried?

Ear popping usually only causes temporary discomfort and symptoms go away once the plane lands.

Complications from aeroplane ear are extremely rare however, you should contact your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Ongoing pain

  • Hearing loss

  • Ringing in your ears

  • Vertigo

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