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When travel becomes a pain in the ear: Four tips for unclogging your ears on a plane

Posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at 1:58 pm

Chances are you’ve had a similar experience to this: You’re sitting on an airplane, almost to your destination and the pilot comes over the intercom to announce that they’ve started descending and that the flight attendants should prepare the cabin for landing. You might be putting your tray table up or organizing your things to deplane, when you suddenly you notice everything sounds muffled and your ears feel clogged. You start forcing yourself to yawn or pop a piece of gum in your mouth and begin chewing furiously, hoping for some relief. The plane finally lands and as you walk to baggage claim, you’re still poking at your ears or maybe pinching your nose and blowing softly. You might even spend the first hours of your trip asking others to repeat themselves and experiencing a lot of discomfort.

If this sounds familiar, and you’ve been putting up with it for a few days or a lifetime, keep reading. Let’s talk about what’s really happening and what you can do about it. A rapid change in atmospheric pressure takes place when planes ascend or descend. During this time your body needs to keep up with the change by opening your normally closed Eustachian tubes.

Your Eustachian tubes have an important job: They equalize the air pressure levels behind your ear drum to the outside world, acting as the body’s natural air pressure relief valves for the ear. When they stay closed for an extended amount of time (especaully during dramactic pressure changes), they don’t allow for normal equalization, hence that clogged feeling. If you have a head cold and are experiencing nasal congestion, it can make things even worse.

The good news is, you have options. Here are a few ways to help open and exercise your Eustachian tubes and even take control of the situation in the future:

The Valsalva Maneuver 

The Valsava Maneuver involves closing off your nose and mouth while blowing and bearing down, which forces air through the Eustachian tubes. This must be done gently and carefully because blowing too hard can cause damage to those with heart or other conditions.

Passive techniques 

Drinking water, chewing gum, yawning and swallowing frequently all fall into the category of passive methods to unclog your ears. These methods all can potentially help open up the Eustachian tubes.

Earplugs: This method doesn’t actually open up the Eustachian tubes and is meant to be preventative. Earplugs are meant to keep the pressure change from affecting your ear drums if inserted into the ears before the plane ascends/descends. They must be used continuously to be effective.

Eustachi: For some people, the above options don’t work. If that’s the case for you, there’s a new product that might help. Eustachi works along with the body’s natural process of swallowing,

helping open the Eustachian tubes while you swallow by using a small amount of regulated air to help exercise the Eustsachian tube muscles. It’s easy to use and you just have to swallow while the Eustachi is running to feel it work. And exercising your Eustachian tubes has the potential to possibly help avoid those pesky plugged ear situations in the future.