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How to relieve airplane ear pressure

How to Relieve Airplane Ear Pressure

December 15, 2018

Because of rapid air pressure changes, ear problems are one of the most common complaints of air travelers, especially those with an ear or sinus infection.

"Yawning or swallowing while chewing gum during takeoff and descent can usually unblock your ears," says Thomas Borski, MD, a board-certified ENT 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."

"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 continues. "However, this should be avoided by people with heart disease, high blood pressure, prostate problems, or excessive nervousness.

He adds that pregnant women should consult with their physician before taking any medication or planning air travel. He also advises that if ear pressure or pain persists after landing, 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.

Headshot of Thomas Borski, MD

About the Author

Dr. Thomas Borski is a ear, nose, and throat specialist at Kelsey-Seybold's Main Campus. He is trained in balloon sinuplasty and believes this procedure is a good tool for treating sinus problems using a minimally invasive approach.

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