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Five Ways To Protect Your Ears on Airplanes

Allison Marie Hess

Flying to new or old places can be exciting, fun, and nostalgic—until ear pain kicks in. Maybe you’ve felt it when the cabin doors close, during takeoff, or right before landing—or maybe even the whole duration of the flight. It’s that ear popping, head pressure, and clogged feeling that happens on airplanes and can even last for hours—or days—after you land.


I went on a beautiful, relaxing vacation to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to escape from the stresses of the working life. While down there, I had some allergies to plants that my body wasn’t used to, so my sinuses were acting up a bit. I flew back to New York, and from the moment the doors closed until the moment they opened 4 hours later, I had intense ear pain, fullness, and popping. I tried everything: chewing gum, eating, drinking, yawning—but it was all too little too late. For about four months after that, I had severe barotrauma that muffled my hearing, made my ears pop unexpectedly, and gave me pressure headaches every morning and night.

After several months, my ears began to heal. Six months later, I was scheduled to take a business trip. This time, I was scared to even walk into the airport for fear my ears would start ringing again. Thus, I consulted with my doctors, and we came up with some solutions. I used all of them, and I am pleased to say my ears were pressure-free with not even a moment of pain.


Here was my five-step, pain-free plan:

  1. Airplane Earplugs.

Upon researching the best airplane earplugs for flying, I decided to try adult EarPlanes, which are disposable earplugs that are good for one round trip. I put them in right when I got on the plane and did not take them off until the cabin doors opened. These earplugs are specially designed to open up the ear canal and prevent narrowing of passageways that creates pressure or buildup. Although my ears were a little sensitive to the grooves in the earplugs and I couldn’t hear anyone talking (although this was a good excuse to not talk to the annoying person sitting next to me), I can say for certain they helped protect my ears from any discomfort and pressure.

  1. Decongestant nasal spray.

I asked the flight attendant to inform me thirty minutes before takeoff and landing so I could spray my nose with a decongestant. He told me he does the same thing to help open up the sinus passages, which directly affects the ear passages. I sprayed my nose to get rid of any possible inflammation or congestion, and I already started to feel any current head pressure subside.

  1. Oral antihistamine.

I also took an oral antihistamine. Since I was aware that allergies aided in my sinus and ear problems last time, I did not want to take the chance again. Histamines are any trigger that causes your nose to swell and your body to have any sort of allergic reaction. Even if you are not having an “allergic reaction,” using an antihistamine helps relieve any swelling in the sinuses that could cause unwanted discomfort or pressure.

  1. Warm compresses.

I used a warm towel on each ear to further calm my petrified ears. Applying heat improves blood circulation, which helps relieve pressure and pain. Wet a small towel with hot water and completely cover the ear with it. I wet the towel in the bathroom, but you can ask a flight attendant for a cup of hot water as long as you are careful of splashing.

  1. Chewing gum.

Finally, just for good measure, I chewed three pieces of gum just to keep my jaw moving and my ear canal in motion. However, I did notice this interacted with my EarPlanes a bit, and I had to screw-in the earplugs a little bit tighter to utilize both pain-free tactics at the same time.

(DO NOT pinch your nose and blow. This could actually damage your ears more if done incorrectly.)

There is a lot you can do for pain-free ears to enjoy your vacation or return home without worrying about short-term or long-term ear trauma. These simple solutions worked for me, and they will work for you too—so go adventure!

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