If you’ve been on a plane before, you’ve probably experienced the uncomfortable sensation that is known as airplane ear.
While your Eustachian tube works to equalize the changes in pressure in your middle ear by opening and letting air in or out, the changes in air pressure may be too great for your body to handle, resulting in blocked ears during and after the flight.
Table of Contents
- 1 8 Proven Ways to Pop Your Ears After a Flight
- 2 How to Pop Your Ears on a Plane
- 3 What Causes Airplane Ear?
- 4 Airplane Ear Won’t Usually Last Long
- 5 Go to the Doctor If Your Ears Have Been Clogged For Days
- 6 Complications of Airplane Ear Are Rare
- 7 You May Still Be Able to Fly With Blocked Ears
- 8 Be Careful When Flying With an Ear Infection
8 Proven Ways to Pop Your Ears After a Flight
1. The Valsalva Maneuver
The Valsalva maneuver involves pinching your nostrils, closing your mouth, and gently blowing as if blowing your nose.
Using the Valsalva Maneuver can help equalize the pressure in your Eustachian tubes.
2. Warm Compress
Taking a wash cloth, running it under warm water, wringing it out, and then applying it to your ear for 5-10 minutes can help drain the fluids in your ear.
3. Steam Inhalation
Inhaling steam with the help of boiling water and a large bowl or taking a hot shower after your flight can help thin the mucus and earwax in your ears, which will in turn help to unblock your ears after a flight.
4. Hydrogen Peroxide
Lie on your side and place a few drops of hydrogen peroxide into one ear, switch sides and repeat with the other ear.
Hydrogen peroxide is excellent for getting rid of earwax, fluid, and unclogging your ears.
You can also use olive oil, but hydrogen peroxide is easier to apply and that bubbling sound is oh so satisfying.
5. The Toynbee Maneuver
Like the Valsalva maneuver, the Toynbee Maneuver also helps to equalize the pressure in your Eustachian tubes, but it is performed a little differently.
To perform the Toynbee Maneuver, pinch your nostrils and take a few sips of water to help you swallow.
If your ears are only slightly clogged, simply yawning can help to unblock your ears.
You will need to repeat this every few minutes for your ears to pop.
7. Chew Gum/Suck Hard Candy
Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can help to activate the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes.
Decongestants can be helpful to pop your ears after flying because they work to dry up the mucus in your nose and offset any swelling that might be interfering with your Eustachian tube.
How to Pop Your Ears on a Plane
Many of the techniques to pop your ears after a flight will also help to pop your ears on a plane and even prevent your ears from getting blocked in the first place.
While you won’t be able to inhale steam or take a hot shower on a flight, you will be able to perform many of the other techniques listed, as well as a couple of others.
- Drink lots of water
- Chew gum or suck hard candy
- Yawn frequently
- Use the Valsalva maneuver
- Toynbee Maneuver
- Use decongestants
- Wear filtered ear plugs like these
- Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage pain
The only other thing we would recommend is to stay awake for takeoff and landing, simply because staying awake will mean that you can actively take steps to open the Eustachian tubes.
What Causes Airplane Ear?
Airplane ear is caused by the changes in air pressure inside the cabin that results in discomfort inside your ear.
Airplane ear occurs during both takeoff and landing.
When you take off, the air inside your middle ear is at a higher pressure than the air inside the cabin.
Conversely, when you descend for landing, the air inside the cabin is at a higher pressure than the air inside your middle ear.
Airplane ear is also known as barotrauma, barotitis media or aerotitis media
Airplane Ear Won’t Usually Last Long
Airplane ear can last from a few minutes to a few days after your flight, though the former is much more likely.
Airplane ear will often resolve spontaneously and without any treatment.
Go to the Doctor If Your Ears Have Been Clogged For Days
If it’s been a few days, you’ve tried several techniques and your ears are still blocked, it would be wise to call a doctor, especially if you’re feeling pain.
As inflammation can cause long-term hearing loss, your doctor may provide anti-inflammatories in the form of medications.
A doctor will also be able to perform an in-office procedure to vacuum fluid from your middle ear by making a small incision, with the cut closing in a day.
This is only likely if there is also fluid buildup that is the result of having a cold or infection and isn’t common with airplane ear alone.
Complications of Airplane Ear Are Rare
If it’s been a few days and your ears are still blocked, first, it’s good to know that complications from airplane ear are rare. So don’t worry.
However, in rare instances, severe symptoms may result in a perforated eardrum, though a perforated eardrum will typically heal without any medical attention after a few weeks.
If you experience a perforated eardrum and experience discharge from your ears, ringing in your ears, hearing loss, or vertigo, it’s time to call the doctor.
If you experience bleeding, dizziness or drainage from the ears after a flight, it’s also best to see a doctor as soon as possible.
As mentioned, inflammation can cause long-term hearing loss, too. So you don’t want to experience symptoms of airplane air for too long.
You May Still Be Able to Fly With Blocked Ears
Ideally, it’s better not to fly with blocked ears, but is still entirely possible.
The reason for blockage is also important.
If your ears are blocked due to a build up of wax, try and remove as much wax as possible before you fly.
If your ears are blocked due to an ear infection, try and get it resolved as much as possible before you fly with help from your doctor.
Be Careful When Flying With an Ear Infection
You can fly with an ear infection and many passengers do so every day without any issue.
But if you fly with an ear infection, due to changes in cabin pressure, your body won’t be able to equalize the air pressure in your middle ear to the cabin pressure as effectively, which may result in extreme ear pain, a ruptured eardrum, hearing loss or vertigo.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).