Ear Congestion, Airplane Ears: Symptoms, Causes, Home Remedies for Airplane Ears

What is Congestion of ears or Airplane Ears?

The ears are totally plugged up and one can hear some fluid in one of them. When one travels in an airplane, this condition develops. This condition is called as congestion of ear or Airplane ear. Whenever you travel by airplane there may be congestion of ear due to change in barometric pressure.

How is Congestion of Ears or Airplane ears caused?

  • In order for your eardrum to vibrate as it should, the air pressure in the middle ear has to be the same as the air pressure of the environment.
    Air pressure regulation is the work of a narrow passage called the Eustachian tube. One end is connected to the middle ear. The other end has a tiny opening where the back of the nasal cavity and the top of the throat meet (nasopharynx).
  • Normally, tissues in your middle ear slowly absorb air. This results in less air pressure on the inside of your eardrum than on the outside. When you swallow or yawn, you activate muscles that open the Eustachian tube and allow the middle ear to replenish its air supply.
    This is why swallowing or yawning can often eliminate airplane ear symptoms.
    When an airplane climbs or descends, the air pressure in the environment changes rapidly, and normal function of the Eustachian tube doesn’t occur quickly enough.
  • Even though the cabins of airplanes are pressurized, the air pressure at a cruising altitude is still less than the air pressure on the ground. Therefore, when your airplane is climbing, pressure in your middle ear is greater than the pressure in the cabin. In order for the pressure to be balanced, air has to escape out the Eustachian tube. This escape of air is relatively easy.
  • During your flight the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum usually becomes equalized again. During an airplane’s descent, the air pressure is greater in the environment than in your middle ear. In order for this air pressure difference to equalize again, air has to enter the middle ear through the Eustachian tube. Rapidly getting air into the middle ear doesn’t happen so easily. Because of this, you’re more likely to experience airplane ear during a descent.

What are the Complications arising from Airplane ears or Congestion of Ears?

  • Ruptured or perforated eardrum
  • Ear infection
  • Hearing loss

How can we treat Airplane Ears or Congestion of Ears?

Your doctor may prescribe medications or direct you to take over-the-counter medications to control conditions that may prevent the Eustachian tubes from functioning well. These drugs may include:

  • Decongestant nasal sprays
  • Oral decongestants
  • Oral antihistamines

What are the Precautions to be taken while traveling in an airplane?

  • Yawn and swallow during ascent and descent. Yawning and swallowing activate the muscles that open your Eustachian tubes. You can suck on candy or chew gum to increase how often you need to swallow.
  • Use the Valsalva maneuver during ascent and descent. Gently blow, as if blowing your nose, while pinching your nostrils and keeping your mouth closed. Repeat several times, especially during descent, to equalize the pressure between your ears and the airplane cabin.
  • Don’t sleep during ascents and descents. If you’re awake during ascents and descents, you can do the necessary self-care techniques when you feel pressure on your ears.
  • Chew gum, suck on candy, drink liquid or yawn vigorously during the descent, to stimulate swallowing and equalize pressure in the middle ear.

Home remedies for Airplane ears or Congestion of Ears

  • Swallow several times when the plane is taking-off to land or blow your nose gently, which may help the Eustachian tube to open.
  • Take a decongestant pill or spray both nostrils with a decongestant nasal spray one hour before landing.
  • Yawning helps to unblock the ears.
  • Chewing helps the Eustachian tube to open and when a droplet of air passes from the nose and throat to the middle ear, pressure is relieved.
  • Squeeze the nostrils shut with your fingers and breathe inwards through your mouth and then try to force the air back into the nose. Then your ears will get unclogged with a pop, accompanied by mild pain. This has to be repeated several times.