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What is the best way to make my ears pop when landing on a plane? The hold-your-nose-and-pitch method is very painful; are there any other methods to pop ears?

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reading about all this yawning made me yawn heartily. – mawimawi Feb 8 '12 at 16:35
Swallowing works for me. – JD Isaacks Feb 8 '12 at 17:49
One way to avoid having to pop your ears is using a nasal spray. – chiborg Feb 8 '12 at 18:18
I can pop my ear by just flexing some muscles near the back of my throat. I learned this after I got annoyed by the constant popping when I swallowed and I started eliminating which muscles triggered the popping. This also taught me how to pop my ears on command. – ratchet freak Feb 8 '12 at 19:04

6 Answers 6

up vote 20 down vote accepted

While a full yawn is best, simulating the movement your jaw makes in a yawn is enough to pop your ears (and often simulating a yawn makes a real one happen anyway)

If you have a cold, or if you let the pressure build up a lot it can be difficult to get the eustachian tubes to open, so in those instances I hold my nose, close my mouth and gently try and blow.

This is one you want to try gently, as blowing too hard could actually damage your ear drums, so practice doing it with relaxed cheeks (almost as if you were playing a trumpet.) You can also just try one eardrum at a time, which can make this easier and safer.

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this may sound silly, but how do you do that for "one eardrum at a time"? – Mark Mayo Feb 1 '12 at 3:31
@MarkMayo - keep one cheek taught while allowing the other to relax and loosen the opening to that eustachian tube only. It gets really easy with practice. – Rory Alsop Feb 1 '12 at 8:32
This is about as good of an advice as it gets, and included pretty much all techniques that I was taught by my grandmother and later by others. On more sudden pressure changes, such as snorkeling or being in an elevator, I also find simple neck stretching to often do the trick, relieving the pressure build-up. Kneeling for a few seconds then suddenly straightening up can do the same, but people with a tendency to faint easily should best avoid this. To prevent pressure build-up, one can also have mouths open wide for the duration of the ascent/descent, but obviously not while snorkeling LOL. ; – TildalWave Mar 25 '13 at 9:39

I have had ear difficulties since I was a baby, and was inflicted with many earaches as a youngster.

My ears feel pressure very easily. If I do not aggressively pop my ears during a plane ride, I will have an earache by the second flight of the day.

Here my ear-popping mechanisms, with the easiest-to-do-without-practice listed first:

  1. Yawning - as Kate noted, it's pretty easy to induce yawning. Personally, I can usually start yawning after about 20 seconds of just thinking about yawns. If I had a kid with ear pain on a flight, I would simply start talking to them about yawning, and then yawn in their faces - you get the fun of using social engineering to get somebody to yawn, and they get have their ears magically stop hurting!

  2. Swallowing deliberately - while clenching the back of the throat a bit more than usual, I found this to be a pretty effective (and easily repeatable, once you've gotten a drink from the flight attendant) method for draining the fluid from my ear-pipes.

    However, I rarely use these techniques any more after mastering the following:

  3. The pinched-nose-blow - the Valsalva mentioned by Kate and others. Pinch the nose, close the mouth, breath out in a quick burst through the nose. HOWEVER - to avoid increasing the pressure in your ears in a counterproductive manner:

    • Don't actually pinch your nose shut. Pinch it mostly shut. Air should still be able to escape through both nostrils, just not nearly as easily as normal.
    • While I have the best luck with quick breaths out, it's important not to breathe too hard. A bit of practice can help you find the right amount of pressure before you start to go to far.

    I have found the above method to be highly effective without requiring much practice. I've used it quite a bit.

  4. The jaw-wiggle - after years of using the above tricks, I can relieve most pressure by simply flexing the muscles at the back of the jaw slightly while moving my jaw a bit to the right or left.

    If you combine this with a quick practiced breath out through the nose (even without pinching), you can relieve pressure in your ears surprisingly effectively.

    On a plane ride where I'm doing this for a good stretch of time, I will usually do about 5-6 of these, then stretch my jaw wide in a yawn-like motion, and then go back to the jaw-flexing.

Earaches are awful. Some of the worst pain I've experienced in my life was caused by ear pressure.

Whatever you do, don't do nothing. Don't wait until the pain wakes you up to start relieving the pressure.

Start using any of these techniques (they all do work) as soon as you feel any pressure in your ears, at any time during the flight.

It's a lot easier to keep your head (ears?) above water if you can stop the pressure from escalating.

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I may not edit for one character but it is Valsalva rather than Valsava. My sympathies - ear ache I agree can be a LOT worse than say toothache. – pnuts Oct 4 '14 at 0:03

For prevention, I suggest chewing imaginary gum. Just do exactly what you would do if you had remembered to put gum in your mouth as descent started.

Once I'm in pain (eg I wake up from it, which has happened), I do the Valsava - pinch your nose shut and do just what you'd do to blow your nose. It's up to you how hard you "blow" - start gentle and work up if it's not working. You can feel the pressure equalize and the pain stops.

If you'd rather yawn, it might help to know it's a very contagious word. Most people will scratch themselves if someone else does, or if someone says the word itchy, or just from reading the word itchy (my doctor told me they were actually trained how to ask someone "does it itch?" without scratching themselves.) Yawn is a little less contagious so just reading it might not do the trick, but saying it aloud should work. Failing that, fake a yawn to infect someone near you - their real yawn should trigger one for you.

Update: today I am flying with perhaps the worst cold I have ever had. It is certainly the worst I have flown with. I needed to break out the big guns when it came to clearing one if my ears. As a result I can add two more techniques to this answer. First, especially if you have a cold, full-on blow your nose. This helped a lot. Second, massage the area under your ear (the end of your jaw) with the opposite hand. Move your ear up and down on your head. Combine this with chewing that imaginary gum and swallowing (I had a bottle of water with me) and the ear will clear eventually. Don't give up, keep working at it.

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It is clear enough in the link but if not visited "carries with it the risk of auditory damage and increases the risk of retinal detachment". – pnuts Oct 2 '14 at 18:41
Which is why I emphasize to start gently. You want to blow just enough to clear the pain, not start at full blast and possibly hurt yourself. – Kate Gregory Oct 2 '14 at 18:43
Excellent advice - as usual! – pnuts Oct 2 '14 at 18:44

Well personally, I find a yawn is by far the easiest and least painful way of inducing the so-called 'pop'.

From Wikipedia:

"Under normal circumstances, the human Eustachian tube is closed, but it can open to let a small amount of air through to prevent damage by equalizing pressure between the middle ear and the atmosphere. Pressure differences cause temporary conductive hearing loss by decreased motion of the tympanic membrane and ossicles of the ear. Various methods of ear clearing such as yawning, swallowing, or chewing gum, may be used intentionally to open the tube and equalize pressures. When this happens, humans hear a small popping sound, an event familiar to aircraft passengers, scuba divers, or drivers in mountainous regions.

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yeap... yawning absolutely works best. But, it's not easy to trigger it afaik. Or you have some secret techniques? – Phelios Jan 30 '12 at 7:11
try coughing by pinching your nose. – Rudy Gunawan Jan 30 '12 at 8:37

Earplugs. There are many brands, they're cheap and after you've put them in you don't need to worry about doing any facial contortions since they help to automatically relieve pressure. Also obviously cuts back on aircraft engine noise and the sound of yet another excitable/crying child.

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Shouldn't earplugs give you pain when pressure changes? Suppose you put in the earplugs when the plane is at a high altitude, then the air pressure between your ear drums and the plugs will be low compared to ground level air pressure. So when the airplane lands, then there will be a pressure difference compared to the air in the eustachian tube, causing the ear drums to bend, thus pain. – feklee Jan 29 '13 at 17:51

Cabin Pressurisation

This ear pain you experience when landing is usually related to the increase of cabin pressure as the altitude of the plane decreases. This inevitably causes an increase of the pressure of the air trapped inside the inner ear and sinuses, which cause the squeezing, pushing, piercing sensation we all know. Various techniques exist allowing you to equalise the pressure in the inner ear and sinuses.

As a general rule of thumb, you should begin equalising pressure as soon as the first signs of pressure-related discomfort in the inner ear and sinuses arise. Don't wait for the pain level to rise, as this corresponds to an increase in pressure which will need a harder push to equalise. Pushing too hard can cause a plethora of accidents which you most probably want to avoid.

Yawning or Swallowing

First thing you should try is yawning or swallowing. Both movements contribute to a slight opening of the Eustachian tube, which can help in releasing pressure in the inner-ear and sinuses.

Valsalva Manoeuvre

If the pressure build up is too high for yawning and swallowing to be ineffective, several other techniques have been proven to be effective. The most common manoeuvre to compensate and equalise pressure in the inner ear and sinuses is the Valsalva manoeuvre (pinch your nose, close your mouth and blow). Whilst very effective, if performed incorrectly this manoeuvre comes with a set of possible serious consequences, including the increase of intraocular pressure which can lead to retinal detachment, as well as damage in the inner ear due to over-pressurisation, and various other cardiac-related problems.

Marcante-Odaglia or Frenzel Manoeuvre

One valid, and safer, alternative to Valsalva is the Frenzel Manoeuvre. This is performed as follows:

  1. Pinch your nose
  2. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth
  3. Swallow

The Frenzel manoeuvre is safer than Valsalva because it does not cause the same large increase of intraocular pressure. Moreover, this manoeuvre does not inhibit the venous return to the heart, which is the main cause of the cardiac problems related to the Valsalva manoeuvre.


The content of this answer was largely borrowed from this other answer of mine.

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protected by Mark Mayo Jan 29 '13 at 17:31

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