Whether you’re in business class traveling for work or in coach with your family on your way to vacation, there’s one unpleasant thing everyone experiences when taking off from Richmond International Airport. And no, it’s not airplane food; it’s ear pain and pressure. Below we review what causes this discomfort and how to find relief.
What Causes Pressure in the Ears on Airplanes?
Typically, the Eustachian tubes equalize pressure between the middle ear and the environment. When you gain or lose elevation gradually, like on a hike, you likely won’t even notice that your Eustachian tubes are doing their job.
However, when you’re taking off or landing in an airplane, the ears don’t have time to adjust. When you take off, the pressure in your ears is greater than your environment, causing your eardrum to swell. Conversely, when you’re landing, the pressure in your ears is lower, causing your eardrum to suck in like a vacuum. This phenomenon is known as barotrauma.
How to Find Relief from Ear Pressure on Planes
In order to prevent or treat this feeling of pressure, you need to give the Eustachian tubes a hand. There are several ways to do this:
- Swallowing, chewing gum and sucking on hard candy introduces air into the Eustachian tubes, which helps equalize pressure. If you’ve ever noticed a small clicking or popping sound when swallowing, know that’s the sound of a tiny air bubble moving from the back of the throat into the middle ear.
- The Valsalva maneuver is when you take in a mouthful of air, close your mouth, pinch your nose and gently exhale. This opens up the Eustachian tubes to help them pop. While you may not have ever heard the term “Valsalva maneuver” before, most people have done it. Note that you should not attempt this if you’re experiencing a cold or allergies, or an ear infection can result.
- Stay awake when taking off and landing so you can use these strategies. Otherwise, you may wake up with a lot of pain in your ears.