One of the inconveniences that airplane passengers often face is stuffy ears. Knowing the reasons for this can help yourself quickly return to a comfortable state.
Why does ears clog?
Congestion in the ears in flight occurs due to the difference in pressure in the human body and the external environment. Normally, the air pressure in the tympanic cavity of the ear should be similar to atmospheric pressure. When it is different, there is pressure on the eardrum, which feels like a stuffy ear.
The pressure difference occurs when the plane gains altitude and quickly falls into a lower pressure area, and the body does not immediately adapt. A similar effect is observed during the movement of a high-speed elevator. If you yawn, make a chewing or swallowing movement, an internal opening is temporarily opened in the auditory (Eustachian) tube, air with a higher pressure comes out of the ear and air with a lower pressure enters. As a result, congestion also disappears. If you are flying with small children, you can give them a bottle during takeoff and landing.
It happens that flight attendants give out candy to passengers when the plane takes off and lands. When yawning and swallowing doesn't work, try blowing out your ear. Pinch your nose with your hand, close your mouth and try to exhale through the pinched nose. When excess pressure builds up in the larynx, air will knock out the plug from the ear, if any.
If you have a problem with congestion in your ears, try not to sleep during takeoff and landing. If there is a long flight ahead, ask the flight attendant to wake you up before boarding. There are also special earplugs that can be inserted into your ears if needed. They neutralize the effect of sudden pressure drops on the eardrum.
A problem can arise if the lumen of the auditory tube is narrowed. This can happen due to a cold, an inflammatory process in the ear, when the passage of air in it is difficult. Also, swelling of the nasal mucosa can lead to a deterioration in ventilation of the middle ear. Therefore, if you have a cold or a stuffy nose, if possible, postpone your flight until you recover. If flight is unavoidable, bring along vasoconstrictive nasal drops. This will reduce the swelling and keep the eustachian tube clear. If you have a runny nose due to allergies, take your antihistamine.
Usually, ear congestion during flight is temporary and resolves quickly. But there are also complications if a person has a severe cold or flu. Sudden pressure drops with a stuffy nose can provoke otitis media. In extreme cases, bleeding into the tympanic cavity or rupture of the tympanic membrane occurs. If for a long time after the flight you have discomfort or soreness in your ear, see your ENT doctor.