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I always feel a pain in my ears when flying. Specially when descending. The last time I had extreme pain, feeling it inclusive around my eye balls. It felt like someone was touching the eye and pulling it from the inside. I really had to focus, close my eyes and hold to avoid screaming. I am not sure but I think both things might be related. Such a severe situation only happened once.

I just heard that with a cold the ear pain gets worse. I am bit worried that I might go through that situation again. I have a cold and I am going to fly soon.

What can I do to improve this?

I see that some consider this a duplicate of the question "best way to make my ears pop" but after reading the answers I think my question goes a bit beyond that since my pain is more extreme and I think it goes beyond just popping the ears. I also want to know if other methods, like using earplugs, might be effective.

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possible duplicate of Best way to make my ears pop? – Heidel Ber Gensis Dec 15 '13 at 22:09
@HaLaBi initially I also though it was a duplicate, but after reading the answers I think this is a more severe case. – nsn Dec 16 '13 at 18:37
sorry to hear that mate. Maybe you have some medical condition, because it is not usual to have pain in ears.. just blocked ears.. I suggest seeing an ENT doctor. Wish you the best :) – Heidel Ber Gensis Dec 16 '13 at 18:38
@HaLaBi hope not. It only happened once also. Plus I want to know if there are other methods to avoid the discomfort of pressure besides chewing gum or yawning. – nsn Dec 16 '13 at 18:47
chewing gum and yawning are the most effective ways, I am also sure if blocked ears are not popped by these two methods then there must be an infection which is blocking that tube (forgot the name), anyway I hope it is a one time thing.. – Heidel Ber Gensis Dec 16 '13 at 18:49

When descending, the pressure in the cabin rises, so it's higher outside your nasal cavities than inside. There are various ear clearing techniques used by scuba divers who regularly experience much bigger pressure differentials. Different ones seem to work for different people, but for me the most effective one is the Valsalva maneuver: pinch your nose, close your mouth and blow against it (carefully).

Note that this will not work during ascent, since then the pressure inside your cavities is bigger than outside. But that case seems to normalize by itself much more easily.

A cold can block your Eustachian tubes and hinder these techniques, especially the more gentle ones like yawning and swallowing, but I've never had one so bad that the Valsalva maneuver didn't work. There is one problem though: it may help the cold spread to previously unaffected nasal cavities, though in my experience they're all affected sooner or later anyway.

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One of my friends suggested this technique and I am successfully using it till now. It is quite a relief. I even experience the ear pain if I descend downhill in a car at a fast rate. – Amol Gawai Dec 18 '13 at 8:13

Kids and some adults have a very similar problem as you're describing. My wife is one of them. The only thing that helps her are pressure reducing earplugs. It doesn't relieve it completely but makes it bareable enough during the flight and pressurization changes of the airplane.

Position inside the airplane also seems to play a role during pressure change phases with front being more bareable then the rear.

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How do you use them? only landing or during the complete flight. Thanks for the input. – nsn Dec 16 '13 at 22:39
@nsn That's entirely up to you. Usually just for take offs and landings but if the flight changes altitude often you might leave them in for the duration. – Karlson Dec 17 '13 at 2:25
A friend of mine has told me recently that she is wearing earplugs during flights and those help her against the pain she used to get. The same earplugs as she uses for swimming. (This is to confirm the answer.) – Willeke Dec 17 '15 at 21:16

Earpain in planes is typically caused by an obstructed eustachian tube (see picture below from Wikipedia) enter image description here The tympanic membrane is the membrane that catches the noise and by vibrating sounds get translated to signal in our nerve system. To work the air pressure on both sides of the Tympanic membrane needs to be the same. This is maintained by the earlier mentioned eustachian tube, which is connected with the Pharynx. If this tube is obstructed pressure pressure can't get even. Over presure on one side of the membrane causes pain. Being connected to the Pharynx means that the tube easily get obstructed with mucus when having a cold.

Getting rid of the pain is basically done by getting rid of the obstruction. There are multiple ways to do this. If you don't care what people think, you could use a soother. This is typically advised when traveling with infants. You can't explain to them yet how to clear their noses, so by either giving a soother or a bottle of baby milk during taking of and descent works. If you don't want to use a soother you could resort to Chewing gum, bringing a bottle of water, or bring an vicks inhaler with you.

When I have a cold while traveling I try to drink as much water as possible before and during the flight. It seems to work a bit. The downside is that you will have more visits to the lavatory.

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Great image. It really helps. Do you have something similar for the relation of the ear and the eyes? – nsn Dec 21 '13 at 9:41

My method is not official, but it helps.

By using paper bags in flights, it gets better. I cover ears, mouth and nose, then deeply inhale and exhale. It's not perfect, but at least it's bearable

Hope it helps

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+1 It is certainly one to remember for those not carrying earplugs who have unexpected ear problems. (Like when you have a cold but normally not having ear pains.) – Willeke Dec 17 '15 at 21:18

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