When it comes to aggravating side effects of air travel, painful ear pressure is a close second to lost luggage and flight delays. Not only can the pressure caused by a plane ascending and descending cause severe pain if your ear doesn’t “pop,” it’s also one of the most common reasons that babies on planes cry so much. (Can you blame them?)
Business Insider decided to find out once and for all how to resolve that irksome ear pressure by talking to a professional—Dr. William H. Shapiro, an audiologist and clinical associate professor from NYU Langone Medical Center.
Luckily, the solution is a simple one. Dr. Shapiro recommends that travelers who are troubled by plugged ears try closing their mouth, plugging their nose, and swallowing. That’s it. While travelers may need to repeat the trick a few times to maintain the effect, the easy maneuver should be enough to equalize the pressure in ears and alleviate any pain.
Many travelers have grown up learning to alleviate pressure by plugging their nose and blowing out their ears—impress your fellow travelers by letting them know the official title for that technique is the “Valsalva maneuver.” However, Dr. Shapiro says his swallowing technique is safer than the Valsalva maneuver, because it’s less likely to cause lasting damage to the ears by forcing too much air out of the Eustachian tubes, which can cause even more pain—enough to make a grownup cry like a baby on a plane, which is never a good thing.