Behind the Science of Why Ears Pop On Planes


It makes babies howl inconsolably on flights and sometimes during takeoff or landing I have the urge on the plane to just let myself collapse and do the same. That acute pain of ear pressure doesn’t discriminate.

This post originally appeared on Map Happy.

I recently took a flight on the verge of a full-blown cold and my ears just wouldn’t freaking pop no matter how wide I yawned or how hard I chewed my gum. A few years ago one of my ears never popped even after a few days on land and morphed into a dull pain that drove me to visit the doctor. It turned out to be a cold and had “moved into my ear” because of the flight (a great diagnosis).

The doctor went on to tell me that blowing air hard out through my ears by plugging my nose and closing my mouth is pretty dangerous. Dangerous like I could have ruptured my eardrum and caused irreparable damage. Some days of nasal spraying got me back to normal but plugged ears are something I started to pay attention to from then on.

It is time to get things straight on the phenomenon of ear popping.

It’s about what’s happening in the ear.

Pressure differences, right? but let’s really get into it. Our bodies usually adjust to pressure changes smoothly without us noticing but when we’re doing something like plummeting through the air or diving deep into the ocean, our mechanics often can’t keep up as quickly. This is the pressure people often feel on take-off, descent or even if you’re just driving up a mountain. The pressure difference and that uncomfy feeling, if you’re curious, is called barotrauma.

Most of the time, our body can adjust to the differences in the atmosphere. Gizmodo explains:

We’ve evolved to be —> Read More