How Can You Decrease the Pressure in Your Ears When Flying?

Mar 8, 2017

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The following is not official medical advice. Contact a doctor if you have any questions regarding this article.

Ear pain problems due to cabin air pressurization during flight occur mostly during descents, almost never during climbs. During climbs, the air inside the ear can always escape out quite easily and thus equalize.

The difficulty is during descents. During descents, the air is trying to go back into the middle ear to equalize the pressure as you descend to higher air pressures (or the cabin pressure is pressurizing or is “descending”). And for some reason the air path into your middle ear is not clear. It could be due to a cold, a sinus infection, an ear drum blockage due to an infection, what have you, or simply, because of the way your ear structure is built. Some people seldom experience pain; others do all the time.

You can try the “Vasalva maneuver.” This means you pinch your nostrils shut, close your mouth hard, and gently blow air out until you hear a pop and the air pressure inside your ears is equalized. The pain due to pressure imbalance should immediately go away. Scuba divers do this maneuver all the time when diving down to higher pressures in the water.

The other method, more preventative in nature, is to chew gum or suck on a piece of candy before starting descent.  If you don’t have any gum or candy, you can try to drink sips of water and swallow or, as a last resort, move your jaw around and try to make swallowing movements.

The idea here is that as you move your jaw and swallow while chewing or sucking on the candy, or sipping water or simply moving your jaw around, the ear canal occasionally gets straightened out a little and hopefully will open just enough to allow bits of air to sneak past the eardrum and equalize the air pressure inside the middle ear with the pressure outside the ears.

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images. 

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