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Why Do Ears Pop When Landing in Airplanes?

Updated on May 6, 2017
We made it to California and Disney's California Adventure and fortunately, my ears had recovered!
We made it to California and Disney's California Adventure and fortunately, my ears had recovered! | Source

Ear Pain Can Hurt When Landing in a Plane


On a recent airplane trip across the country, the pain shooting through my ears was excruciating as we descended into the Los Angeles Airport. Sometimes the left ear, sometimes the right but pain bad enough to make my eyes water. Since I was an 8 year old child on my very first plan trip to visit my grandparents in California, I have had terrible trouble with my ears “popping” when I am in an airplane that is landing. By this time in my life I have realized that the only thing that really helps me is to chew gum all the way through the descent and landing. But on that Wednesday morning I had forgotten to keep the gum with me and stored my bag in the overhead bin. I yawned, I swallowed repeatedly, but nothing helped. All I could do was sit there repeating, “I need my gum” and try not to cry from the pain. My husband, after suggesting that I block my nose and blow out, which did nothing, was gracious enough to ask a steward to get the bag down for me, and I dove for the pocket where I had stored the pack of gum. Within a matter of minutes the pain subsided and I could vaguely hear sounds again, other than the crackling and popping noises coming from inside my head.

So, what exactly makes ears “pop” you may be wondering. The pain of that experience made me determined to find out. Turns out that the actual popping sound that happens is due to ears trying to regulate the pressure between the inside of the ear, and the outside of the ear. Ears usually 'pop" when there is a drastic change in air pressure such as when a person is diving or descending in an airplane. When a person experiences a drastic or quick air pressure change outside of their body, it quickly affects the ear drum. Under these circumstances, the ear drum becomes strained and bulges. You have probably heard of the Eustachian Tubes before. I have too but never knew their purpose until now. The Eustachian tubes run from a person's nose to their jaw and are located behind the ear drums. The main purpose of the Eustachian tubes is to allow the pressure inside the eardrum to equalize. It does so by allowing air to flow into or out of the middle ear as needed to keep air balanced. The movement of air through this tube as it equalizes the amount of air creates the "popping" noise. As air is balanced in these tubes, the pressure on the ear drum is relieved and brings a physical relief to the person experiencing the air pressure changes.

Normally, the Eustachian tubes are closed, but when a person moves his or her jaw, the tubes open and can bring more air in to equalize the pressure. This is why chewing gum, eating, or drinking is recommended for people experiencing pain when landing in an airplane. Even when babies are traveling on airplanes with their parents, it is helpful for them to nurse or drink from a bottle while descending in flight. The movement of the jaw helps air flow and this equalizes air pressure in the ear drum. And that my friends, explains the culprit that causes so much pain when ears "pop."

Suggestions For Preventing Ear Pain on Flights

* Chew gum...it naturally makes you swallow which balances the ear

* Suck on candy or eat or drink something ( same as above)

* Yawn as many times as possible until your ears equalize the pressure and feel better

For Infants

Infants can feel ear pain as well but can't tell you why they are crying. Here are some tips:

* Nurse your Baby

* Give the baby a bottle to drink from, or if they are old enough to hold a sippy cup, let them drink from that.

* Let them suck on a pacifier to produce saliva they will swallow.

* If you have nothing else available, let the baby suck on the tip of a clean finger. This works like a pacifier and will produce saliva they will swallow.

Ear Popping Poll

Have you ever had trouble with your ears popping on airplanes?

See results

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    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

      Yes, I have had ears pop. By swallowing, I can usually get the ears to relieve some of the pressure differential.

      It is the worst when one has a cold and stuff up and on the airplane. The ears pressure can build up uncomfortably.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't fly that much but most definitely this has happened. It happens all the time when I am hiking in the mountains. Interesting hub my friend; a few more to go to hit 365, and well done!

      Happy New Year Karen!

    • stephanieb27 profile image

      stephanieb27 4 years ago from United States

      Voted up and useful! Thanks for sharing this information! :)

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Ooooh...instant empathy and flashbacks to the times I've had splitting earaches! No fun at all, my friend! But this hub was significant in that it reinforced my hunch that you are truly addicted to HubPages. I say this pointing the finger at myself because that's what my life has turned into as well...like constantly having these special Hubber's Glasses on that filter everything one sees into a hub compartment where little gnomes ponder, "Okay, fellahs, is this a potential Hub? Or should we shove it out the airplane?" Wait...maybe it isn't the air pressure causing my earaches whenever I fly...maybe it's those gnomes shoving ideas around in my brain. I digress...time for me to take my Hub ball and go home. See ya, Karen!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 4 years ago from Georgia

      hawaiianodysseus,

      Very funny...and you are right, during this painful episode I experienced, I committed the pain to memory, trying to describe it to myself so I could describe it in a hub! And then I went from the plane to the United Airlines Club Room for a 5 hour layover, during which time I wrote an outline for both this hub and the one I published yesterday about the United Airlines Club Room, and voila...you can read both on Hub Pages today. I am addicted alright!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for stopping by stephanieb27. I hope it helps the next time your ears are popping!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 4 years ago from Georgia

      billybuc,

      Is it as painful when you are hiking as it is when you are flying? I sure hope not. It would make me NOT want to go hiking!

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 4 years ago from Georgia

      BlissfulWriter,

      You are right that swallowing does help some people. Swallowing on it's own does not help me personally. I have to have gum...maybe because I chew and swallow faster with a stick of gum in my mouth. Thanks for the comment.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      My ears clearly pop every time I ride in a plane. I wonder if my parachuting out of it has anything to do with it?

      Very interesting write.

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 4 years ago from Georgia

      shiningirisheyes,

      Ha ha...funny. I think the altitude has something to do with it. Can you chew gum on your parachuting trip? I am sure it would help if the popping is painful!

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      The popping isn't painful but the landing sure is.

    • Karen Hellier profile image
      Author

      Karen Hellier 4 years ago from Georgia

      shiningirisheyes,

      Really? What hurts the most? Legs? Bottom??? Tell me why you do it, and if you enjoy it if it hurts that much? Have you written a hub about this? I would love to check it out!

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