Why Do Your Ears Pop When You Fly?


Quick Answer

In-flight ear popping is caused by a combination of inner ear anatomy and air pressure changes caused by the different altitudes experienced during an airplane flight. Thanks to the inner ear's complex anatomy, it is normal for there to be a small amount of air inside the middle ear, which keeps the ambient air pressure around the eardrum at a relatively even level. However, when a person experiences rapid changes in elevation such as in an airline flight, the tube that supplies this air to the middle ear rapidly widens and narrows in an attempt to equalize the ear's air pressure, which can lead to blockage that is resolved with a pop.

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Why Do Your Ears Pop When You Fly?
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Full Answer

This tube, called the Eustachian tube, feeds air into the middle ear. If the Eustachian tube is obstructed, perhaps by not being open wide enough to feed air into the middle ear, it can create a vacuum within the ear. If this blockage is not successfully popped, symptoms such as pain or nausea can occur, and it can even lead to physical damage. This is why airplane passengers should swallow, yawn or chew, especially during takeoff or landing. Giving younger passengers food or gum can help them successfully clear blockages in their ears as a result of changing air pressure.

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