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Why do we feel ear discomfort during flight ?

Flying in an airplane at thousands of feet above the ground in usually a pleasant and enjoyable affair. But there is something about a flight journey which can be really annoying and 80% of the flyers does face it. It’s the – Ear Discomfort. Most of us have to tackle this ear pressure and pain especially during the aircraft takeoff or landing. Let us find out what is the reason behind this phenomenon and what steps can be taken to minimize this unrest in the ears.

Why does this happen?

The major reason behind the Ear discomfort during flight is the rapid change in air pressure. Usually the air pressure inside the inner ear and outside are almost similar which doesn’t cause any trouble. But whenever this air pressure varies drastically, it causes the eardrum inside the ear to contract or stretch depending upon the change in air pressure and hence this causes ear discomfort.

What happens during flight?

During the takeoff , the flight climbs up to the cruising altitude rapidly due to which the air pressure inside the cabin decreases and gets lower as compared to the pressure inside the inner ear. Excess pressure inside the ear causes the eardrum to swell outward. This extra air trapped inside the ear needs to find a way to escape, which it finds through the Eustachian tube. This Eustachian tube is a thin tube which runs from the inner ear to the back of nose/throat and allows the air to enter/escape the ear.

Similarly, during the landing as the aircraft descends, the air pressure inside the cabin increases and gets more than the ear pressure. This causes the eardrum to contract inwards and this happens till the ear gets more air which has to be sucked in via Eustachian tube.

So, its the bulging and contraction of eardrum which sometimes cause the pain or hearing problem during flight.

How can we control this ear discomfort?

There are few ways by adopting which we can prevent this pain in our ears.

  • Swallowing and Yawning – The easiest way of all is to swallow or yawn as this opens up the Eustachian tube which allows extra air to escape or air to be sucked in when required.
  • We can try eating chewing gums as it keeps the Eustachian tube and mouth in motion. Also , one can drink liquid while pinching the nose closed.
  • Nasal Spray – During cough/cold , use Nasal sprays prior to boarding the flight as it helps keep the Eustachian tube clean so the air is not blocked from entering or existing the ear inner.
  • We must avoid sleeping during landing so that we can try the above listed ways to avoid ear discomfort.

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