How To Prevent Blocked Ears When Flying

This blog post has been reviewed and approved by a hearing care professional.

Traveling by plane can be uncomfortable for many people, especially if you already have hearing issues. One of the common reasons is due to air pressure. When a plane takes off, the pressure increases. When the plane descends, the air pressure increases. 

In practical terms, this means during take-off the air inside your middle ear pushes outward towards the eardrum. And during landing, the eardrum gets sucked back inward. These changes in air pressure can sometimes be too much to handle for the Eustachian tube, which normally helps equalize pressure.1


For some people, the change in air pressure may not just be uncomfortable but extremely painful. This painful condition is called ear barotrauma  or airplane ear(s). Usually you can counter the differences in air pressure with self-care steps such as yawning, swallowing or chewing gum. However, for a severe case of airplane ear, you might need to see a doctor.
How Common Is Airplane Ear?

Airplane ear is quite common, though it does affect people in different ways. Some people may experience pain where others might only have slight discomfort. If you also have a cold, ear infection or allergies at the time of your flight, the symptoms of airplane ear may be more uncomfortable.


Luckily, most people recover quickly from airplane ear once the plane has landed and the air pressure has been equalized.2
How To Prevent Painful or Blocked Ears When Flying
Swallow, yawn, chew or suck on candy
Swallowing, yawning, chewing or sucking stimulates the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes and can alleviate the pressure in the middle ear(s).
Do the Toynbee Maneuver
The Toynbee Maneuver is a technique that helps equalize the pressure in your ears. You just pinch your nose closed between your fingers and take a few sips of water at the same time.
Do the Valsalva Maneuver
The Valsalva maneuver is most commonly used among divers to make blocked ears pop and equalize pressure when coming up[U3]  from a dive. To do the Valsalva you will want to pinch your nose closed and softly blow air through your nose (as when blowing your nose) with a closed mouth. If it doesn't work right away you can try again later as airplane ears are not usually dangerous.
Wear Custom Earplugs
Not only do custom earplugs protect your ears from the loud noise, some specialized filtered earplugs can also help stagger the external air pressure making the effects of altitude change on the ears less uncomfortable.
Are Your Ears Still Blocked After Flying?
If the ear pain or blocked sensation continues for a long time after flying and you can't make your ears pop, it's a good idea to consult your doctor.

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1 “Airplane ear - Symptoms and causes.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed August 26, 2022.

2 Victory, Joy. “Airplane ear: How to avoid ear pain and popping during flight.” Healthy Hearing. April 6, 2021. Accessed August 26, 2022.