Air Flight and Hearing - Things You Need to Know

Relieving Ear Pressure from Flying

Have you ever noticed that when we reach a place with a high altitude, there’s something going on in our ears? This most especially happens when we ride a plane.

No matter how expensive or cheap your seats are or how many people there are in the plane, you can’t avoid this kind of ear discomfort.

While it isn’t really a huge matter, things can be very complicated when it becomes serious. It can even lead to hearing loss that would require you to wear hearing aids.

How does it happen?

Basically, this phenomenon can be explained because of air pressure. The inner ear and outer ear have about the same level of air pressure, or not a large difference to cause any trouble.

Now, maybe you’re wondering why this doesn’t happen when you climb a mountain, as compared to an airplane taking flight. Well, your ascend takes a lot slower when climbing a mountain compared to when you are on a plane speeding fast. The former gives your ears time to adjust to the pressure and equalize it along the way.

We can easily look at the tympanic membrane in the ear. The tympanic membrane is simply the eardrum. It is what separates the external ear from the middle ear. When air pressure differs greatly from the inner ear and the outer ear, the tympanic membrane acts like a vacuum that gets sucked inwards. The eardrum can't vibrate. This can actually cause pain and you may experience a decrease in hearing or hearing muffled sounds.

How can you solve it?

There are many ways you can solve this feeling in the ears.

1. Swallowing

Try swallowing right now. Did you hear a click or a pop? That is tiny bubbles of air that goes from the back of the nose to the middle ear.

There is a part of the ear, the Eustachian tube, that makes sure that air in the middle ear is always refilled. The inner ear then absorbs this air and then it goes on and on again like a cycle. This way, it ensures that air pressure is always equal.

2. Chew gum or suck on hard candy

This is roughly the same as the first point. Constant chewing of gum and sucking on hard candy prompts you to constantly swallow.

3. Valsalva maneuver or Toynbee maneuver

I bet you have already done this without actually knowing what it’s called. Take a deep breath. Close your mouth and pinch your nose. Now, gently force air out until your ears “pop”. That’s the Valsalva maneuver, named after the physician and anatomist named Antonio Maria Valsalva.

However, the Valsalva maneuver is not recommended for those with a cold or allergy cause it can cause ear infection. Instead, one may just do the Toynbee maneuver. With this, you close your mouth and nose like in the Valsalva maneuver but, instead of forcing air out, you swallow several times.

Here are more tips for you!
  • Eustachian tubes in adults differ from babies. The feeling may be more painful for them because of the narrowness of it. It’s a great idea to make the baby suck on a pacifier or a bottle. Children can suck on candy like a lollipop.
  • Make sure you are awake when the plane ascends and descends.
  • Ask for eardrops or a nasal spray from your ear doctor.

Try out these tips the next time you travel by plane. That feeling can be very uncomfortable and may lead to some serious ear trouble, so make sure you beat it!

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