Unstick Your Ears After A Flight

Sometimes your ears get stuck during airplane rides and even an hour later, you’ve still got a painful pressure built-up and difficulty hearing. Here’s some things you can do to unclog the works.

Take ‘diver’s candy’ – Take stuff with pseudoephedrine in it for its decongestant properties.
Suck it – sucking on a hard candy encourages swallowing, which opens up the Eustacian tubes
Yawn – yawning opens up Eustacian tubes
Chew – so does chewing
Do the Valsalva maneuver – Inhale, close your nose and mouth, and blow the air against your cheeks. Don’t overdo it, do it every few seconds and you can irritate the tubes and make it worse.
Nasal decongestant sprays – Didn’t see this recommended anywhere else but I took some Afrin and it helped clear things up.

Bonus tip – if you’re prone to problems like this, pop some pseudoephedrine a few hours before your flight to help avoid it in the first place.

RELATED: 1 ear still stuffy after flight. Is this bad? [MetaFilter] (Photo: darkpatator)

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  1. Cornelius047 says:

    I always yawn on the way up and “Valsalva” down. I find that you make your ears worse when you try to blow them out while ascending.

    • Irashtar says:

      @Cornelius047: That’s because the vasalva technique (which isn’t blowing against your cheeks, it’s attempting a light blow out your pinched nose) can only increase your internal pressure. The main cause of Eustacian tubes not co-operating is mucus, which is why decongestant is a great assistant. It’s possible to manually force the tubes open by tensing the muscles at the back of your neck, You can clearly hear a click when they open, and keeping them open results in a very distinct rumbling. While the rumbling isn’t a guarentee that the pressure behind your ears will drop to equalize, holding it for long enough will manage it.

      • Drew5764 says:

        @Irashtar: I’ve been thinking I was the only one who could do this. Everyone else always seems to have issues, and I can just flex and the pressure is gone.

        Water clogged ears are another issue entirely.

        • karmaghost says:

          @Drew5764: This is something I’ve learned to do just relatively recently. I wish I knew about this when I was younger and had immense discomfort during landings.

          I have a hard time explaining how to do this to other people, but it’s like yawning without the actual “yawn.” The “rumbling” is the same sound you get when you’re yawning for reals.

        • TakingItSeriously is a Technopile says:

          @Drew5764: Yeah I just tense the muscles behind my jaw and about 99% of the time they just pop. I do it 3-4 times on ascent and descent, and rarely ever have an issue.

  2. MikeB says:

    I find that gum helps me.

  3. missdona says:

    I can usually move my jaw back and forth and it will clear it out.

  4. spenc938 says:

    The couple of times I’ve tried the valsalva thing, it’s made the problem much worse, but the yawning technique is amazing.

    • shadydentist says:

      @spenc938: Yea, that only works when the pressure is increasing. This is particularly useful for divers when they descend.

      • Rainer Thomas Paskiewicz says:

        @shadydentist: I’ve always got it to work, regardless of the way the pressure was changing. However, there is one minor mistake here.

        Close your Eyes.

        Also, it doesn’t matter about pressure’s movement in this case. Its always going up.

  5. Anonymous says:

    i chew on gum…simple, and i dont look weird doing it :P

  6. Plates says:

    If none of those work, taking the PATH train between NYC and Hudson County or NJ Transit through the North River Tunnels from Penn Station to Newark (or vice versa) always gets the ears to pop.

  7. ohnoes says:

    I’m going to veto the valsalva maneuver, as people have passed out doing it. Who cares about your EustacHian tubes if you have a TBI?

    • dumblonde says:

      @ohnoes: Yes. I stopped doing it after one time it made me extremely dizzy and I ended up with a horrible headache the rest of the day.

    • giyad says:

      @ohnoes: Actually, its the most effective way. Its called equalizing, you do it when scuba diving as well, it works exactly the same way. I prefer to do the yawning/jaw thing when I’m in an airplane or an elevator, but when im underwater its much easier to valsalva… you just have to be careful not to blow too hard.

      • Rachacha says:

        @giyad: Exactly. For those of you who want to try this technique, very little blowing pressure is needed. Hold your nose closed, close your mouth (I also close my eyes for a tighter seal of the nasal cavity) and try to breathe out of your nose (less force than you would blow your nose if you were feeling a bit stuffy)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Here’s one I was taught by stewardess many years ago. Get two paper cups. Stuff each with a paper napkin. Dampen the napkin with really hot water, making sure to drain excess water out. Cup the cups over each ear. Breath deeply. The heat loosens the tension of the eardrums and lets the air come in. I’ve used this for years and it really works.

    • trujunglist says:

      I can do it too, but the pressure relief isn’t all that great. I probably don’t have strong muscles for it to keep the tube open long enough.
      Also, when I’m sick I may as well just get a shotgun and blow my head off because it’s instant pressure-death for me + the happiness of a sinus or ear infection to deal with after the landing.

  9. morgasco says:

    I’m guessing Ben has spent the afternoon trying all of these, probably in vain me thinks..

  10. Gene Howard says:

    I can’t be the only one who can do the throat/jaw movement to open the Eustacian tubes without a real yawn. You know, where you can hear that crackly noise? My wife looks at me like I’m crazy when I try to explain it to her, but at least I don’t end up chomping gum and clutching my ears.

  11. sonneillon says:

    Be careful if you get up in the air and decongestant wears off. You can have problems going up and coming down. Divers can get what’s known as a reverse block if their decongestant wears off while they are diving. Similar thing happens in the air.

  12. lawndart says:

    Some people (like me) can also just flex some tongue-Eustachian tube muscle and let the pressure out. Oh, and be careful with the Valsalva thingy, I’ve given myself some wicked painful ears doing that while congested.

    And for a long term solution: Icepick

  13. edrebber says:

    Federal law requires you to show your drivers license to buy pseudoephedrine. The clerk records your information and you are a candidate for identity theft.

    • morgasco says:

      @edrebber: Maybe if you use a small ma and pa pharmacy to get your PSE. Most major pharmacy and retail chains either scan or type the pertinent info in, and stores the information securely, most likely off-site.

    • skippythatis says:

      @edrebber: sudafed -> pseud-ephed -> pseudoephedrine. Not the one made with phenylephrine (sudafed PE), the original stuff.

    • adamczar says:

      @edrebber: I go to a mom-and-pop pharmacy and all they record is my name and address. I’m not sure how they could steal my identity with information that’s available in the white pages, anyway.

    • thewildboo says:

      @edrebber: all they take is your name and address. It’s not like you have to give your social security number. Besides, if I need sudafed, I’m gonna buy it, because it’s the only thing that works (for sinuses, not this airplane business)

  14. Cyclokitty says:

    Take a breath, pinch my nose, close my mouth and exhale. Because the air is blocked my ears pop. Works every time I am standing in an elevator in a high rise going down.

  15. dumblonde says:

    I agree with the Afrin. I use it every time I fly. But don’t abuse it. It will make your congestion worse if you do.
    I also chew gum and take 12 hour Sudafed or Zyrtec-D. Then I’m absolutely fine unless my allergies are really bad in which case I just suffer.

  16. InThrees says:

    “I’m going on a flight later today so I need 35 boxes of pseudoephedrine.”

  17. ktoth04 says:

    Suddenly I’m following a travel blog?

  18. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    Breastfeeding works too. For the baby. For an adult, you’d probably get thrown off the plane in the best-case scenario. It only goes downhill if you pick random stranger boobs.

  19. RogueSophist says:

    I’m usually so exhausted from lack of sleep due to the:

    (a) baby screaming up front
    (b) guy falling asleep on my shoulder
    (c) irritatingly loud announcement speaker directly overhead
    (d) cramped space
    (e) et cetera

    that I have no problem yawning nonstop at the end of the flight. That works!

  20. ShabazOSU says:

    Also, the valsalva maneuver is contraindicated for people with heart problems and/or hypertension.

  21. Andrew Makk says:

    Only time I ever had a problem with a stuck ear was flying home after a week of Scuba Diving while getting certified in Catalina.

    My one ear was stuck for a good month afterwards. Morale of the story is, don’t fly the same day (or day after) you dive.

    • lawndart says:

      @Andrew Makk: It’s also a good way to get sudden and unexpected nitrogen bubbles in your joints and blood, you know, the bends. Dive tables really don’t take flying into account, they probably covered that in your certification class I’m guessing :)
      I know they harped on it in mine, complete with gruesome anecdotal stories!

      • Andrew Makk says:

        @lawndart:

        There was plenty of time following the dive for the nitrogen to leave the bloodstream before we flew out.

        Ear just got stuck on the last dive and the flight just made it worse.

        • lawndart says:

          @Andrew Makk: Sorry, you sounded just like a friend of mine who, freshly certified, completely missed that little nugget and made his Dive Master on the last day have an apoplectic fit about his flight home. He learned that 3 hours is maybe not enough time, and that laid back So Cal surfer dudes have really impressive vocabularies. No offense meant :)

  22. ribex says:

    I NEVER fly without EarPlanes. These ear plugs are indispensible for me. When I was a kid, Sudafed (psuedoephedrine) worked well enough, but I had a cross country flight at the age of 17 that caused me serious pain and substantial hearing loss for days. EarPlanes can be purchased for about $5, and are usually good for an entire roundtrip (2-4 legs of flight). They come in children’s sizes, too.

    An additional note: I tried using a knockoff brand (CVS, maybe?) and even though they were brand new, they failed on me partway through on descent. I was in so much pain, and it was a short trip, too, so I know I still need these ear plugs.

    • morgasco says:

      @ribex: I’m waiting for the disclaimer that this is a paid advertisement and does not reflect the view of The Consumerist lulz

      • ribex says:

        @morgasco: You’ll be waiting a long time, then. :P

        Seriously, I would probably avoid planes altogether if it weren’t for EarPlanes. Flying is too painful for me otherwise, and this is one of the top 5 products that I’m a little fanatical about. It has even occurred to me at times that I ought to buy packs of the kiddie ones and hand them out to frustrated parents inflight, lol. I don’t actually know how well they work for kids, though.

  23. psykomyko says:

    If ear-popping is too painful, I recommend two styrofoam cups with a warm, damp paper towel in the bottom of each. Put the cups against your ears during take-off and landing, and it helps the ears adjust.

    I know, it sounded ridiculous to me, too, until I had to ask for it for my sick wife, and the flight attendant knew exactly what I was talking about!

  24. Quilt says:

    The pain comes from the difference in pressure from the air inside your head to the outside air. Yawn every now and then during the flight (up, down and all around). It’ll make the pressure inside your head the same as the pressure outside. So? No pain.

  25. tech-tard says:

    I used to think that everyone could do it too. I used to laugh at people who complained about their ears getting stuffed up – “just unplug them – it’s like blinking but with whatever those internal earflap things we have”.

    I’m going to go home and see how many/whether my kids can do it.

    • ribex says:

      @tech-tard: I have enough other general ENT issues that I think something is physiologically wrong with my head. So, I don’t think everybody can do it, no. I’m very sensitive even to pressure changes while driving in hilly areas.

  26. chiieddy says:

    Too bad I’m not allowed pseudoephedrine for medical reasons. The others don’t work for me either.

  27. MoebiusSK8 says:

    The worst in when you are sitting by a baby who can’t figure out what the hell is going on and just screams out of frustration.

  28. Mxx says:

    i just swallow my saliva. i have better results w/ that than yawning.

  29. Chewbenator says:

    I can relieve the pressure in my ears just by wiggling them. I didn’t know what ear popping was till I was like 14 because I did it all the time. Never understood why my family would chew gum during plane flights.

  30. NotHellTempest says:

    I do a sort of variation of the valsalva thing, I close my nostrils with my hand, and try to blow out my nostrils. I find this is much easier and more effective.

  31. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Overdue? Like a library book?

  32. cv says:

    @Gene Howard:

    They actually taught this in my basic PADI Open Water dive class. Divers know all the good tricks for this issue.

  33. Aaron Ortega says:

    The worst Ive ever had it was up in the mountains. None of those methods would work, and finally unclogged when I blew my nose into a tissue.

  34. MyPetFly says:

    I can tell you that you DON’T want to descend in an aircraft with ears plugged from a recent cold. It’s some of the worst pain I’ve experienced. Do whatever you can to clear them before you head down.

  35. Chris Kelly says:

    so a whole group of people that can do something others can’t and can never explain it. I guess it’s like trying to teach someone to whistle. I can also move my ears (independently) and flare my nostrils easily. But i can only lift one eyebrow.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Tip for anyone travelling to Australia.
    Don’t bring Pseudoephirine into the country. I brought some into Australia from Thailand for use with a head cold.

    1. You need to declare it on the customs entry form and,
    2. It will be confiscated by customs because it is a banned import due to it being a base ingredient used in the manufacture of certain illegal drugs.
    This may apply to other countries as well.

    Just yawn instead.

  37. Anonymous says:

    I tried all of these things during a recent trip back from Mexico. Despite my efforts, I didn’t regain my normal hearing for at least four days. Without a doubt one of the most annoying traveling experiences I’ve ever had. Ultimately, if all of these things don’t work, the only thing that will is time.

  38. wezelboy says:

    Vasalva works great for me, but I’ve got excellent diaphragm control. I could see a novice wasting their ears.

    The worst thing is if you sneeze while doing it. That is painful.

  39. geeniusatwrok says:

    That is the worst description of the Valsalva maneuver ever.

  40. Apeweek says:

    I’ve had this problem my whole life, my ears always stick, and I’ve tried all the tricks.

    Though I’ve had good results lately by having the wax cleaned out of my ears right before I fly.

  41. William Gu says:

    I have the Shure 420 (430?) or whatever and I don’t know if I imagine it or what but if I listen to music the whole flight, my ears “stick” only a little bit and one yawn takes care of it.

    • ribex says:

      @William Gu: Your Shures are essentially providing the same benefit as the EarPlanes I described above. It’s not your imagination. If you took out the Shures while the plane was in its final portion of descent you might experience pain.

  42. carlyld says:

    My trick is to have holes in my eardrums. Works like a charm.

  43. Datacloud says:

    Vulvasalivary Maneuvers in the Dark. Works every time if you get your ears pulled.

  44. ajlei says:

    I already have a chronic issue with my Eustacian tubes plugging up, but I’ve never really had a problem on planes. Still, I guess it’s good to know for those normal folk.

  45. rychdom says:

    I have several pilots in my immediate family, and they suggested I chew gum and keep my mouth open during takeoffs and landings. I used to have seriously painful stuck ears (for hours after the flight), but I haven’t so much as had my ears clogged since I’ve been using this technique.

  46. HalLaius says:

    Better than the blow-into-your-cheeks valsalva is to pull your tongue as far back and up as it will go when you blow, it allows you to accomplish the same thing with a lot less pressure, and you can do it with an open mouth. I do it diving, and it helped my go from having trouble getting to the bottom of a pool to shooting down 80 feet with no problem.

  47. onesix18 says:

    Chewing always worked well for me. However, with all the flying I’ve done over the years, I can’t figure out why sometimes my ears are more ‘clogged’ than other times. I guess the duration of the flight, the altitude, or the general weather conditions could all be variables…but my experience with flying and clogged ears is never consistent.

  48. picardia says:

    I try all these things, all the time, and the left ear STILL won’t pop until more than an hour after we land. (Not every time, but I’d say about half of the time I fly.) It’s insanely annoying, but at least it’s usually not very painful. I am just half-deaf and keep having to yell “WHAT?” at whoever has come to meet me.

  49. Truthie says:

    I actually just talked to a doctor friend about this the other day – you can also apparently gargle to help clear the Eustachian tubes (and it doesn’t have to be mouthwash – water works just as well).

  50. Jonathan Cragle says:

    I fought this for a number of years and due to a lot of frequent flying I ended up getting Earplanes to solve this issue. I use them before every flight and even when I had a terrible nasal congestion they worked great. I use them with my over the ears headphones without a problem too.

    You can read more info at: [www.cirrushealthcare.com]

  51. Dustin says:

    Check out this Freediving and Scuba diving trick to clear your ears…
    After learning to freedive I started to notice I was a lot more sensitive to pressure changes… Valsalva works great but its very easy to REALLY HURT YOUR EARS if you don’t do it right. The technique to clear your ears by using muscles to open your Eustachian tubes is the best way to go, but you have to train your muscles to do it and you have to retrain yourself frequently if you don’t do it all the time…

    So instead this is what I use when I am out of the water…
    Step one: Pinch your nose
    Step two: Close your mouth
    Step three: Swallow

    Enjoy…

  52. Piri says:

    I stopped having problems with this when I started playing flute. My teacher taught me how to open my throat for very deep notes (which resulted in many yawns as I was learning). I just do that same thing on an airplane and it equalizes.

  53. GorillaEmperorOfEarth says:

    Sometimes when traveling by plane I would get the worst sinus pressure pain on takoff and landing. Sometimes it felt like I could die. I always take pseudoephedrine an hour or two before takeoff and landing plus the nasal decongestant. That combo seems to work most of the time.

  54. Kaz says:

    Great, we flew last week and my daughter was complaining about her ears… I knew the yawn trick and the chewing trick, but didn’t know the others. If only this was posted a few weeks earlier…

  55. Tony Huk says:

    I usually give my earlobes a firm pull… it opens up a gap that lets the pressure equalize… Try it sometime… just don’t tug… a firm, steady pressure is all it takes.

  56. dclong2008 says:

    Not to mention the wicked tweak pseudoephedrine will give ya! No sleep for the wicked …

  57. Anonymous says:

    I’m a SCUBA diver, and the method that divers use to equalize their ears while diving is just as effective in these situations. Just hold your nose tightly and blow threw it until your ears pop. It works every time!

  58. Monica Teasdale says:

    I need my dolls!

    Since I am prone to ear infection, my doc recommended the decongestant route, especially when I can’t get a non-stop. A few well-timed pills works very well for me….

  59. Jason Richmond says:

    I have one really tight tube – the only thing that works (and it took me 20years and 10+ ENT Doc’s is the following -

    On the way down:
    (this is similar to the hold nose and blow technique)
    1) Use your finger to plug the ear that you DO NOT want to pop – make a perfect air tight seal.
    2) Use other hand to hold nose closed
    3) Create air pressure in your mouth to pop ear
    Repeat for other side if needed.

  60. Smorgasbord says:

    Another simple way is to hold your nose and try to suck in or blow out, depending on whether you are in a higher pressure area or a lower pressure one.

  61. Abu-Alam says:

    True story:
    I have a rare medical condition, I can open Eustachian tube wellingly, when I do that it makes a tiny sound like a cockroach, I won so many bets that started with “Can you make a sound of your ear?” I remember seeing my friends’ faces get a shock when I do that and accusing me that the sound is from my jaw=D