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​How to Relieve Airplane Ear Pressure

How can I relieve the painful pressure that builds inside my ears when traveling by air?​

​"Yawning or swallowing while chewing gum during takeoff and descent can usually unblock your ears," says Thomas Borski, M.D., a board-certified Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. "If that doesn't work, pinch your nostrils shut, take a mouthful of air and gently exhale into your nose while keeping your mouth closed. When you hear your ears pop, you have successfully equalized the middle-ear pressure that's causing the discomfort."

Because of sometimes rapid air pressure changes, Dr. Borski says that ear problems are one of the most common complaints of air travelers and advises those with a sinus or ear infection to consider postponing their flight.

"Air travelers with head colds can sometimes get relief by using over-the-counter oral or nasal decongestants an hour or so before takeoff," he says. "However, this should be avoided by people with heart disease, high blood pressure, prostate problems or excessive nervousness.

"Pregnant women should consult with their physician before taking any medication or planning air travel."

He says that if after landing ear pressure or pain persists, you should consult with a physician because unrelieved air pressure can damage an eardrum.

"We have a saying: 'If you can't clear your ears on the ground, maybe you shouldn't be flying,'" concludes Dr. Borski, who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold's Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center and at the Main Campus near the Texas Medical Center.

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Thomas Borski, MD

​I care for each patient with the respect that I’d like my own family members to be treated with. When possible, I explore available alternatives prior to treating patients with surgery and medication.