Travel Tips

5 min read

Flight Ear Pain Begone: 10 Surprising Tips for Serene Skies

Imagine soaring sky-high without the ear-popping agony. Our 10 unexpected tricks will make your next flight as smooth as the clouds you're gliding through. No more wincing, just wanderlust.

Tobi Miles
April 23, 2019

For most us that strange ear popping feeling is a common part of flying. For some it just leaves one ear blocked after flying but for others especially babies, young children and people who are prone to ear infections it can be quite painful and even leave you feeling partially deaf for up to 24 hours!

In rare cases even hearing loss can occur after flying, where you can't hear out of one ear!  Check out the tips below to avoid this and remedy any situation.

Why does ear popping happen while flying?

This is down to the pressure change. Air pressure decreases as you go higher and increases as you go lower. If the pressure isn't equalised, the higher air pressure pushes on one side of the eardrum and causes pain.

This is why many babies cry out during those last few minutes of the flight, as the air pressure in the cabin increases as the plane descends for landing.

The effect can be also felt while climbing a mountain or even scuba diving! The technical name is Ear barotrauma.

The popping or painful feeling is related to pressure changes in the air space behind the eardrum (the middle ear).

Normally, the Eustachian tube, a passageway that leads from the middle ear to the back of the throat behind the nose, equalises the air pressure in the middle ear to the outside air pressure by opening and letting air reach the middle ear.

When our ears "pop" while yawning or swallowing, the Eustachian tubes are adjusting the air pressure in the middle ears.

Symptoms of airplane ear | By MyUpChar via Wikimedia Commons

However, for babies and young children the Eustachian tubes are relatively narrow and restricting so do not allow for this pressure change as well. Ear pain while flying with a cold can also cause this because if they're clogged with mucus from an ear infection or cold, or blocked by enlarged/swollen adenoids the effect will be felt more!

Top 10 methods to avoid the ear pain while flying?

According to Julio E. Parjaro a Medical Doctor specialising in Pediatrics. The top eight airplane ear pain remedies for children are:

1. Yawn regularly while on the flight and after.

Ear popping while flying. Ear Pain

2. Drink plenty of water throughout the flight! (Toynbee Manoeuvre)

Drinking alot encourages swallowing, which opens the Eustachian tubes. In addition, the airplane air is dry, this thickens nasal mucus, making it more likely for the Eustachian tubes to become clogged.

3. Take painkillers such as ibuprofen to prevent ear pain

About  30-45 mins before the takeoff or landings, if your aware your child is prone to ear pain when flying.

4. Chew gum or suck on a mint or other hard sweet (if your child is over 3 years old only).

5. The Valsalva Maneuver - Ear Pain

Older children and teens can practice this exercise during a flight's ascent and descent: Breathe in slowly, then gently pinch the tip of the nose and exhale through the nose while closing the mouth. Repeat as many times as needed.

Ear Pain while flying - Ear Popping plane while flying

6. Make sure your baby if up right while drinking.

Bring a bottle, pacifier or even if breastfeed.

7. Stay awake for takeoff and landing.

While sleeping, we don't swallow as often, so it's more difficult to keep the air pressure in the middle ear equalised.

8. Warm Cloth Compress - prevent ear popping

Take a wash cloth, run it under warm water, and wring out the water. Apply the cloth to your ear for five to ten minutes, and the fluids in your ear will start to drain.

9. Lightly Steam your ear! (Etihad Seat Guru) - Secret Tip.

In an interview with Conde Nast Traveler, Denya Glover (Etihad airlines)  mentioned this golden tip while childrens happiness and comfort on flights.

She said:

"When taking off, many children experience ear pain due to the increase in air pressure. Most parents think that ear plugs will solve the problem, but I recommend something else.

"Ask the flight attendant for some warm water (not too hot, not too cold), a tissue, and a cup. Place the wet tissue in the cup and then over the ear. The steam will relieve the pressure and soothe the pain. Happy children, happy flight!"

10 . Remove that pesky ear wax using Olive Oil! (For Adults)

This method serves to open up your Eustachian tubes by softening and removing your earwax. Add lukewarm olive oil or hydrogen peroxide to an ear dropper and lie down with the affected ear facing up.

Place three to five drops of liquid in your blocked ear and remain in that position for ten minutes.

Then , turn over with the affected ear facing down and wait for your ear to drain earwax and excess oil or hydrogen peroxide (Doctors recommended pressing a towel against your ear during this process).

When you are done, grab a tissue or cotton bud to soak up any liquid at the exit to your ear canal. Use this technique for three times a day for up to seven days to see maximum affect.

Bottles of olive oil | By Alessandro Valli via Wikimedia Commons

How long does the Ear pain last?

The great news is the pain is only temporary  and it won't cause any lasting problems for children. For most it usually eases within a few minutes as the Eustachian tubes open to let the air pressure equalise on both sides of the eardrums.

However, If your child has an ear infection, most doctors recommend delaying flying, if possible, until the infection is gone.

This will help your child avoid increased pain and a possible rupture, or even tear of the eardrum! For children who have had ear tube surgery in the past, the tubes will help the air pressure equalise more easily.

In rare cases, your Childs ear pain may continue for longer periods (up to 8 hours) if the ears still don't "pop, Doctors recommend to give your child pain relievers according to the instructions on the box until the pain eases.

If it continues for more than several hours, call your local family doctor for further advice/instructions.

Ear Popping and Ear Pain can be terrible while flying especially for babies and children

Is there a best place to sit on the plane to avoid Ear popping?

“The short answer is: everywhere on the plane is the same regarding ear popping, as the barometric pressure is the same,”  According to Dr Quay Snyder, President of Aviation Medicine Advisory Service (AMAS).

If you've tried everything? - Then try, Earplanes Ear Plugs.

If you've tried these tips or want to be prepared for any scenario we recommended purchasing a pair of EarPlanes are a pressure-regulating earplug inserted in the ear to help reduce the discomfort often associated ear blockage. The filter acts as an impedance to the flow of air into and out of the ear canal.

Click our link to our Amazon partners Essentials tab to compares all prices worldwide,  search for a pair of ear planes they come in both adult and child varieties and are useful to keep in as an emergency.

Final Thoughts....

Be aware:

If your child takes medicines that contain antihistamines or decongestants, talk to your family doctor about whether to continue the course during the flight.

With patience, simple precautions and the few golden tips above your next family flight will be less stressful, pain free and more comfortable for you and your entire family!

Babies can have a shock when they get ear pain or their ears pop during a flight.[/caption]

Do you or any of your family suffer from Turbulence anxiety or motion sickness during flights?

See our Seat Guru guide on securing the best seat to avoid this!

Which is the best seat on a plane to avoid turbulence? No more Motion Sickness!

Would you like to help a friend? - Share this article on Facebook or Pinterest to save them a headache!

Your Child will be much happier if you take the proper precautions to help avoid ear pain while flying.[/caption]

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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