What Causes Aeroplane Ear?

Have you experienced aeroplane ear (airplane ear and ear barotrauma)? Usually, it’s a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear. And it might cause moderate to severe discomfort or pain.

When your flight takes off or lands, the sudden change in altitude creates a rapid difference between the air pressure inside the inner ear and the pressure outside.

This difference in air pressure causes your eardrum to bulge. Sometimes the stress of this bulging is painful, especially if you are unable to equalize the pressure by opening your Eustachian tube.   

Often it is infants or young children who are most at risk from aeroplane ear because their Eustachian tube is narrower than in adults.

woman looking out aeroplane window
Aeroplane Ear symptoms

Symptoms of aeroplane ear

Aeroplane ear can occur in one or both ears. Some signs and symptoms may include:

  • Moderate to severe discomfort or pain in your ear.
  • Feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear.
  • Muffled hearing or slight to moderate hearing loss.

If aeroplane ear is severe or lasts more than a few hours, you may experience:

  • severe pain in your ear
  • pressure in your ear similar to being underwater
  • moderate to severe hearing loss
  • ringing in your ear (tinnitus)
  • dizziness or a spinning sensation (vertigo)
  • vomiting from vertigo
  • bleeding from your ear due to a ruptured eardrum

Usually, self-care steps such as yawning, swallowing or chewing gum can prevent or correct the differences in air pressure and improve your symptoms.

Aviod Flying

When Should You Avoid Flying?

Do you have a cold that includes an active ear infection or a blocked nose to the point where you can’t breathe?

These issues might be severe enough to compromise the ability of your Eustachian tube to regulate air pressure. This could lead to ear pain or the ears filling with fluid or blood and in extreme cases, your eardrum could rupture.

Be honest in your self-assessment and listen to your body. That flight might be worth delaying to avoid the risk of some quite painful and serious outcomes. Make sure you have travel insurance and check that it covers such circumstances to avoid feeling forced into making a bad decision.

Avoid or alleviate

7 Things You Can Do to Avoid Aeroplane Ear

How to avoid or alleviate the symptoms of aeroplane ear.


woman chewing gum to relieve aeroplane ear

Anything that encourages chewing and swallowing will help you equalise the air pressure inside and outside your ears. Chewing gum or sucking on menthol lozenges are good options.


Valsalva maneuver pinching nose

When chewing and swallowing is ineffective at equalising the pressure in your ears you might like to try the Valsalva manoeuvre. This manoeuvre is done by exhaling against your closed airway. You do this by closing your mouth and pinching your nose shut while gently trying to push air out of your ears.


Blow your nose gently prior to your flight, and during takeoff and landing. As well as equalising your ear pressure, gently blowing your nose increases your self-awareness of how your ears, nose and sinus are feeling.

using nasal spray

Use non-medicated saline nasal spray the day before your flight and prior to take-off and landing. Using a nasal spray thins and clears excess nasal mucus, keeps nasal passages moist and washes away dust and allergens.

inserting earplug

Specially designed ear pugs slow down the rate of pressure change in the ear. They are supposed to alleviate the symptoms of aeroplane ear when the cabin pressure changes rapidly during take-off and landing.


Some of us can’t help but nod off during a flight. But you really should try to avoid dozing during take-off and landing as you might be unable to react in time to equalise your ear pressure.


Feed babies and small children to encourage chewing and swallowing which equalises their ears.

When is aeroplane ear a serious condition?

Hover here to find out!

In cases of severe pain, or if the feeling of full/blocked ears lasts more than a few days

Contact your General Practitioner
Call Healthline on 0800 611 116
Contact Your Nearest Ear Nurse

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