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How to Safely Unclog Your Ears After Flying

How to Safely Unclog Your Ears After Flying

Nicolle Harwood-Nash
7 minutes read
Last Updated: September 19, 2023

Air travel, while wonderfully efficient, can sometimes leave us with a less than pleasant parting gift: clogged ears. This uncomfortable sensation can linger long after your journey, turning what should be a delightful adventure into an ongoing discomfort. But why do our ears get clogged in the first place, and how do we safely unclog them?

In this article, the team at AirAdvisor explains the reasons behind this frequent flyer issue, along with the most effective strategies to unclog your ears post-flight and preventive measures to ensure your travel is as comfortable as possible, even after you've touched down. Keep reading to learn how to pop ears after flight safely.

Why Do My Ears Get Blocked During a Flight?

Known as 'airplane ear', this issue primarily arises due to rapid changes in air pressure that occur during flights. As your plane ascends or descends, the swift variation in altitude leads to a quick shift in the surrounding air pressure. Your middle ear, connected to your throat via the Eustachian tubes, tries to equalise this pressure difference, but the speed of change can often be challenging for these tiny tubes to handle effectively. This can lead to an imbalance.

This imbalance results in a disparity between the middle ear's pressure and the external environment, causing a blocked or clogged sensation in your ears. This discomfort can range from mild stuffiness to significant ear pain and temporary reduced hearing, or even hearing loss.

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5 Safe Ways to Unclog Your Ears During or After a Flight

Sometimes, your ears can stay clogged long after your flight, which can cause discomfort and disruption, for instance, ear pain and reduced hearing. While it can be tempting to go to any measure to relieve the clogged sensation, it's important to do it safely to ensure you don't damage your ears in the process. Here are 5 safe and effective strategies to ease your way through unblocking your ears after a flight:

Yawn or Talk

Yawning or talking can be surprisingly effective at relieving the pressure in your ears. These simple actions help to open up the Eustachian tube, allowing them to equalise the pressure between your middle ear and the cabin. Even if you're not feeling sleepy, faking a yawn can work just as well.

Drink or Eat

The act of swallowing while drinking or eating can help to unclog your ears. This motion aids in the opening of the Eustachian tubes, facilitating the equalisation of pressure. So, sip on a water bottle or munch on some snacks to help alleviate discomfort.

RelatedWhich airline has the best food on board?

Toynbee Maneuver

The Toynbee Maneuver involves pinching your nose and swallowing. This action creates a vacuum in your ear and can help to unblock the Eustachian tubes. Do this gently, though; being too forceful may increase discomfort.

Vasalva Maneuver

In the Valsalva Maneuver, you close your mouth, pinch your nose and gently blow as if you're blowing your nose. This action forces air up the Eustachian tubes, helping to balance out the pressure in your middle ear. Remember to blow softly to avoid damage to your ears.

Warm Compress

Applying a warm compress to the affected ear can also bring relief. The warmth can help to dilate the Eustachian tubes, encouraging pressure equalisation. A damp, warm washcloth or a heating pad set on a low setting should do the trick, but be sure to avoid burns by not making it too hot.

How to Unclog Your Ears After Flying with a Cold or Ear Infection

Flying with an ear infection, cold, or sinus infection can significantly intensify the discomfort of blocked ears. These health conditions often result in congested sinuses, which can impact the Eustachian tubes' capacity to balance the air pressure between your middle ear and the rapidly changing cabin pressure. The resulting pressure imbalance can increase the feeling of blocked ears and even extend its duration beyond the flight.

An over-the-counter decongestant or nasal spray can be a potential remedy for such situations. These medications function by reducing inflammation in the nasal passages, providing relief to your Eustachian tubes, and subsequently easing ear discomfort. It's crucial, however, to consult with a healthcare professional before resorting to these medications, particularly if you have any underlying health conditions.

How to Help Your Child Unclog Their Ears

If your child is struggling with clogged ears during or after a flight, it's crucial to approach the issue gently. Their Eustachian tubes are smaller and less effective at equalising pressure, which can increase the ear discomfort they experience. Encouraging them to swallow frequently, either by drinking fluids, sucking on a pacifier for infants, or chewing gum for older kids, can be beneficial.

Additionally, with infants, breastfeeding or bottle-feeding during takeoff and landing can also help, as the sucking and swallowing action aids in opening up the Eustachian tubes. For older children, you can teach them the aforementioned simple maneuvers to help their ears pop, like yawning, the Toynbee maneuver, or the Valsalva maneuver, but ensure they perform these gently.

It's generally advisable to avoid flying if your child has a severe cold or middle ear infection, but if travel is unavoidable, seek advice from a healthcare professional beforehand on ways to minimise your child's ear pain during and after the flight.

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How to Prevent Ears from Getting Clogged

Taking steps to prevent clogged ears can be the key to a comfortable flight. This proactive approach not only helps prevent ear pain during your flight, but also enhances your post-flight experience:

Chew Gum

One simple way to prevent clogged ears during a flight is to chew gum, especially during takeoff and landing. The action of chewing stimulates saliva production, which promotes frequent swallowing. Each swallow helps open up the Eustachian tubes, enabling the pressure in your middle ear to equalise with the cabin pressure.

Keeping a pack of gum in your carry-on can be a small but significant step towards a more comfortable flying experience.

Open up Your Eustachian Tubes

Proactively working to open up your Eustachian tubes can help prevent your ears from becoming blocked during a flight. Here's a simple routine you can follow:

  • Yawn and swallow frequently, especially during takeoff and landing.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep your throat moist and promote swallowing.
  • Practice the Toynbee and Valsalva maneuvers gently to facilitate the opening of your Eustachian tubes.
  • Avoid sleeping during takeoff and landing when pressure changes are most significant.

Do Ear Plugs Prevent Ears from Clogging During Flight?

Specialised earplugs, known as 'aeroplane earplugs', or 'flight earplugs', have been designed to prevent ear pain and clogging during flights. These earplugs regulate the flow of air into and out of the ear, giving your Eustachian tubes more time to adjust to the changes in cabin air pressure.

However, while these earplugs can indeed help, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. They may not work for everyone, particularly for those with existing ear problems or severe sinus issues. As always, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about using these products.

Also readHow to Survive a Long Flight: 5 Travel Tips Proven to Work

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Travellers often have specific questions about handling the issue of clogged ears after a flight. We address some of the most frequently asked ones here:

What is the fastest way to unclog your ears after a flight?

Below, you can find a step-by-step list to follow for how to unclog ears after flying, summarising the key methods discussed in this article:

  1. Start by yawning or swallowing, which can help open up your Eustachian tubes and allow the pressure in your middle ear to equalise.
  2. Try to gently blow your nose while pinching your nostrils closed, a practice known as the Valsalva Maneuver.
  3. Suck on a candy or chew gum to stimulate saliva production and promote swallowing.
  4. Use a warm compress on the affected ear to aid in opening the Eustachian tubes.
  5. If these steps aren't sufficient, consider an over-the-counter decongestant or nasal spray, but always consult a healthcare professional before using any medication.

What should I do if I can’t unclog my ears after a flight?

If your ears won't pop after a flight, even after trying the above steps, and the discomfort persists for days after your flight, it's recommended to seek medical advice. Prolonged discomfort could indicate a more severe issue like ear barotrauma, a condition caused by rapid or extreme changes in air pressure.

In the meantime, avoid putting anything directly into your ear, such as cotton swabs, as this can potentially worsen the problem. Also, try not to blow your nose forcefully, as this could lead to further complications. Remember, while blocked ears are a common and usually harmless issue, you should seek medical attention for persistent problems.

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