Why Do Ears Hurt When You Fly?

What makes ears "pop" on planes?

Sanaz Majd, MD,
November 4, 2011

Q: Why Do My Ears Hurt or Pop When I Fly on Planes?

Answer: The condition of the middle ear is key to hearing well. To transmit sound to the inner ear, the eardrum must vibrate; and one of the keys to getting a normal vibration is for the pressure to be equal on both sides of the eardrum. To equalize pressure, the body uses a little tube called the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nasal passages. Yawning or chewing makes the Eustachian tube open up, which is why you can make your ears “pop” when you do these things.

If you’ve been on an airplane, you’ve probably noticed your ears feel funny during take-off and landing. That's because the cabin pressure changes, which decreases the ability of your eardrum to vibrate. If you look around the cabin, you’ll notice everyone yawning or chewing gum. That is basically a Eustachian tube festival. Yippee!

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