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?
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.
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:
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
Well personally, I find a yawn is by far the easiest and least painful way of inducing the so-called 'pop'.
"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.
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.
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:
- Pinch your nose
- Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth
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.
We always used to suck hard candy.
I mean, it's not the most dignified method, but especially when we were young, and traveling a lot, and it was hard for us to remember to equalize by other means (or it just hurt) - we would get a small hard candy, and suck on it through takeoff or landing. Kind of a combination of swallowing, chewing imaginary gum, and working the jaw. I've found, as an adult, that it's still a nice method - it takes little concentration, it tastes good, and it usually equalizes my ears before they get painful. Especially if you're sick, tired, or just annoyed it's probably one of the pleasantest ways to get through the pressure.
Of course, you can mirror the imaginary gum-chewing method and suck on an imaginary hard candy, it still works - the way your jaw moves and swallows. It does make me feel a bit sillier than just grabbing a candy or cough drop or whatever.
Another alternative, is to use your fingers to open or equalize the pressure. You can insert a fingertip in your ear and twist, and the air pressure should equalize when you pull your finger out and air flows back in - or sort of flick your finger out to make the air equalize by force (this tends to hurt a bit, but it's fast), or else rub on the outside of your ear, and push hard enough on the front of your ear to partially flatten your ear closed, and let the pressure equalize as it reopens when you lift your finger. Someone already mentioned earplugs, and the theory is the same, just with what you have on hand.
Of course, there are lots of other ways, as other answers have mentioned - deliberately yawning, or drinking, or chewing gum, or pretending to do any of the former, or else holding your nose and blowing till your ears pop. I've tried them all (we traveled a lot), and I generally prefer using hard candy.
The Earpopper is prescription only in the USA but OTC in Canada... It has a 3.9 rating on Amazon. Fair warning: it's expensive and there are no refunds. I am much better at popping my ear with the jaw motion generated by gulping water so I don't need it that much now. Previously, it worked for me. I am a random stranger on the Internet who doesn't even play a doctor on TV.
Edit: no longer, you can now buy the Earpopper on amazon.com as well.