With all of these actions, “you’re opening and closing that tube,” Quesnel says. “When you open and close that tube you’re equalizing pressure with the outside world.” Repeat every few minutes until you feel your ears pop.
2. Chew gum, swallow liquid, or suck on candy to change the pressure in your throat.
Keep a pack of gum handy and chew a piece before takeoff and landing, recommends Dr. Gary Snyder, a New York-based board-certified otolaryngologist. But not just any kind, Dr. Snyder says: “Gum in general is a good idea, but mint gum causes extra saliva and extra swallowing, which can be better for the ears for plane flights.”
You can also pull double duty on hydration and keeping your ears clear by sipping on water or another liquid during takeoff and landing. Sucking on candy helps, too. These approaches are simple and effective: “Swallowing activates the muscles that open the Eustachian tube,” the American Academy of Otolaryngology says.
3. Try a long-acting nasal decongestant.
Many ENT specialists recommend using a long-acting nasal decongestant to offset any swelling that may be affecting your nasal passages and interfering with your Eustachian tube. Two common recommendations: 12-hour or 24-hour Sudafed or Afrin nasal spray. If you opt for the nasal spray, give yourself a spray 30 minutes before takeoff and again about 30 minutes prior to descent.
However, as Quesnel notes, “These medicines are not a cure-all, and you can still have problems. But you can optimize your ability to equalize pressure by taking a nasal spray.”
4. Try the Toynbee maneuver.
This ear-popping technique is simple but effective. Gently pinch your nose shut while simultaneously swallowing. If that doesn’t work …
5. Try a version of the Valsalva maneuver.
Don’t worry, this breathing technique—which is sometimes recommended by medical professionals to help patients slow down a too-fast heart rate or assess problems with the autonomic nervous system—isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Here’s how to do it, according to WebMD: First, take a deep breath and hold it, then pinch your nose shut and close your mouth. Next, bear down (yes, like you’re trying to go to the bathroom) and while you’re bearing down, breathe out like you’re trying to blow up a balloon. This should do the trick, and if it doesn’t, you can repeat and try again, or alternate this with the Toynbee maneuver.
One caveat with both of these techniques: Blow gently. “If you blow too hard, it can generate enough pressure to create a hole in your eardrum, so only gently blow so that it’s not too forceful,” Lee advises.
6. Try to stay awake during takeoff and landing.
If you’re one of those passengers who is snoring before takeoff or still snoozing when the wheels hit the tarmac (or both), you may be more susceptible to airplane ear. That’s because when you’re asleep, you won’t be yawning, swallowing, chewing, or doing any of the other tricks that will help your ears pop naturally. As a result, you may just wake up with a painful earache. But you can avoid this discomfort by staying away during takeoff and landing, and making sure your ears have popped.
7. Use specially designed earplugs to mitigate the rapid change in pressure.
Earplugs are an essential for many travelers to get a good night’s sleep in unfamiliar surroundings, but they can also play a key role in helping ease the discomfort from popping ears. Specially designed to help regulate pressure in the ear, EarPlanes are a favorite among passengers. These hypoallergenic earplugs, which come in reusable and disposable versions, have a unique filter that regulates air pressure, which should help relieve discomfort.
8. Apply a heating pad or warm washcloth to your ear.
This is one you’ll have to do when you arrive at your destination, but for stubbornly unpopped ears, try applying heat with a warm washcloth or heating pad to open up your Eustachian tubes. The heat should help unclog the tube, and allow it to release built-up ear pressure.
9. Get pressure equalization tubes implanted.
Sure, implants may sound severe, but if you suffer from pressure-related ear pain during every takeoff and landing (whether you have a cold or not), you might have Eustachian tube dysfunction. If you have this condition and you travel frequently, you might want to consider having pressure equalization tubes implants in your ears.