Ask the Expert: Airplane Ear

Dr. Thomas Tedeschi

Dr. Thomas Tedeschi

Chief Audiology Officer, Miracle-Ear

Miracle-Ear Chief Audiology Officer Dr. Thomas Tedeschi answers some of your common hearing-related questions.

Q: “I’m planning a summer vacation and will be traveling on an airplane. The problem is, I feel a lot of pressure and even some pain in my ears, especially when the plane is taking off or landing. Do you have any suggestions?”

A: “You’ve just identified the number one medical complaint among air travelers! For most people, the problem is a blocked-up sensation deep inside the ear. Sometimes, as you’ve experienced, there can also be pain, as well as temporary hearing loss. Conditions such as the common cold, the flu, sinus infections, ear infections and allergies may exacerbate ear problems for the airplane passenger.”

“Airplane ear,” as it’s commonly called, occurs when air pressure in the middle ear and external ear are out of sync, placing stress on your eardrum and other middle ear tissues. As you know, the problem is often worst when the airplane is taking off or descending.

A quick swallow or yawn will usually “pop” the ears and ease the discomfort. If that’s not enough, here are some other ideas for making air travel more pleasant for your ears:

  • Chew gum, or let a mint melt in your mouth; this will cause you to swallow more frequently, activating the muscle that opens the Eustachian tube.
  • Yawn frequently; this is a stronger muscle activator than swallowing.
  • Avoid sleeping during descent because you may not swallow or yawn enough to keep up with the air pressure changes.
  • If yawning or swallowing do not work, pinch your nostrils shut, breathe in through your mouth, and force the air into the back of your nose (as if you’re trying to blow your nose).

 

Lastly, if you experience a severe case of “airplane ear,” please seek treatment from your physician.

As mentioned, airplane ear can sometimes cause temporary hearing loss. However, if you think you suffer from permanent hearing loss, visit a Miracle-Ear location to schedule your free hearing test.