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Ear Unclogging From High Altitudes

Ear Unclogging From High Altitudes

Alternate Names

  • ear popping
  • Ear


Flying in an airplane and other activities that cause sharp rises or falls in altitude or air pressure can make the ears clog uncomfortably. Certain steps can help unclog the ears during unavoidable altitude changes.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

This procedure is helpful whenever a person feels his or her ears clog due to a sudden change in altitude or pressure. This might occur when:
  • flying in a plane
  • diving
  • riding in an elevator

How is the procedure performed?

The eustachian tube runs from the throat to the middle or inner ear. When working normally, it helps keep air pressure roughly the same on both sides of the eardrum. When the tube is blocked for any reason, unequal pressure in the middle ear pushes out on the eardrum or tugs it toward the inner ear. This muffles vibration and sounds and also causes the clogging sensation. It can be quite painful.
For relief, a person should try swallowing or yawning several times to pop the tube open and equalize the pressure. Other tips that may make takeoff and landing in a plane more comfortable are:
  • chewing gum
  • breastfeeding babies or giving babies or young children a pacifier or drink.
  • using a decongestant, so long as there is no medical reason to avoid these drugs
If these tips do not work, a person can try another procedure. The person should pinch shut both nostrils, breathe in a mouthful of air, and with the mouth closed, use the cheek and throat muscles to push the air toward the back of the nose as if trying to blow it very gently. This should not be done forcefully.


American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Ears, altitude and airplane travel. [hyperLink url="" linkTitle=""][/hyperLink], 1999.

Parker S, Fornani G. The body atlas. London: Dorleen Kindersley, 1993.

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