Some people develop ear pain when descending to land during a plane journey. It is caused by unequal pressures that develop on either side of the eardrum as the plane descends. Sucking sweets and gently blowing against a closed nose and mouth will usually push air into the middle ear, equalise the pressure and ease the pain. Some people who are prone to this problem take antihistamines or decongestants during the flight.
Some people experience ear pain when flying in a plane. Usually this happens as the plane descends to land. The pain is worse the lower the plane gets and can be quite severe on landing.
The pain is caused by unequal pressure that develops between the air in the middle ear and the air outside the ear.
The small space in the middle ear behind the eardrum is normally filled with air. This air space is connected to the back of the nose by a tiny channel called the Eustachian tube. The air on either side of the eardrum should be at the same pressure. As a plane descends the air pressure becomes higher nearer the ground. This pushes the eardrum inwards which can be painful. To relieve this, the pressure inside the middle ear has to rise quickly too. Air needs to travel up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear to equalise the pressure.
The Eustachian tube is normally closed but opens from time to time when we swallow, yawn or chew. In most people, just normal swallowing and chewing quickly cause air to travel up the Eustachian tube to equalise the pressure. Some airlines offer sweets to suck and eat when the plane is descending to encourage you to chew and swallow.
However, the Eustachian tube in some people does not open as easily and so the pressure may not be equalised so quickly. For example, some people may have a more narrow Eustachian tube than normal. Also, if you have any condition that causes a blockage to the Eustachian tube, then the air cannot travel up to the middle ear. The common cause of a blocked Eustachian tube is from mucus and inflammation that occur with colds, throat infections, hay fever, etc. In fact, any condition causing extra mucus in the back of the nose can cause this problem.
Ideally, anyone with a cold, respiratory infection, ear infection, etc, should not fly. However, not many people will cancel their holiday trips for this reason. The following may help people who develop ear pain when flying.
The above usually works for most people. However, if you are particularly prone to develop aeroplane ear, you may wish also to consider the following in addition to the tips above:
If the measures above fail to prevent aeroplane ear, although the pain may be severe, it normally goes quickly. Take painkillers such as paracetamol until it does go. Fluid sometimes accumulates in the middle ear for a few days after the flight, which may make hearing rather dull for a while. See a doctor if the pain or dulled hearing does not clear within a few days.