Even though commercial airplanes are pressurized to minimize the effects of changing altitudes at 39,000 feet, the cabin may only replicate the atmosphere at 7,000 feet. So, your ears are still subject to changes in pressure, especially during takeoffs and landings.
That could be the reason why one third of all fliers feel ear pain and/or clogging due to changes in air pressure and that number can go up if a passenger is flying with seasonal allergies or flying with a cold.
While most healthy people eventually adjust to changes in air pressure, flying with a cold or allergies can create major ear discomfort and can become dangerous. Under normal circumstances, air flowing through the Eustachian tube inside the ear will keep the pressure on both sides of the eardrums equal.
But if you have a cold, swollen membranes in the ear can block the Eustachian tube. The eardrum can become stretched due to unequal pressure, creating a great amount of pain. In severe cases the middle ear can fill with fluid, resulting in an ear infection. Or the eardrum can even burst.
If you have wondered why babies and young children cry on takeoffs and landings, it is not because of the pilot’s flying skills. It’s because their Eustachian tubes are often very narrow, restricting the amount of air flowing in the ear.
To relieve some of this pain many people feel chewing gum helps. Others feel by swallowing or yawning, you allow the muscles in the Eustachian tube to contract and open, equalizing the pressure. You can also try using a nasal decongestant spray several hours before the flight if you normally experience clogging in the ears while flying.
For more information on ear clogging during flight and other methods to make traveling in the air more enjoyable, contact North County Audiology at (858) 240-4722.