5 Ways to Safely Pop Your Ears After a Flight

Pop your ears using these tips, and learn how to keep them from clogging in the first place.

It's been two hours since you left the airport and your ears still feel clogged.

Other than being mildly uncomfortable, ear blockage can put a damper on your travels as you struggle to listen to your tour guide, follow along in a business meeting, or chat with friends at the hotel bar.

The full, painful feeling occurs due to pressure differences in the middle ear. The eustachian tube, which supplies air to this part of the ear, can become obstructed when pressure changes cause inflammation. 

Rather than wait for that inconvenient, stuffy feeling to go away on its own, you can speed up the process by utilizing safe and natural methods designed to clear your eustachian tubes and drain the fluids in your ears. These techniques can also come in handy if a cold or sinus infection has your ears blocked hours before a flight, and you want to prevent the potentially painful experience of flying with clogged ears.

So if it's been a few hours since you got off the plane and you can't quite hear your travel companion's thoughts on the local cuisine, try one of these five methods to pop your ears and learn how to avoid clogging on your flight home.

Young woman with a cold inhaling steam from a bowl.
Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

1. The Valsalva Maneuver

Close your mouth, pinch your nostrils together, and blow softly. The action of creating pressure in the back of the nose can open the eustachian tube and equalize the pressure. But be careful not to blow too hard so you don't damage your eardrums.

2. The Toynbee Maneuver

The Toynbee Maneuver works like the Valsalva Maneuver in that it helps to equalize the pressure in your ears. Using this method, pinch your nose and take a few sips of water to help you swallow, using the muscles of the throat to help open the eustachian tubes.

3. Olive Oil or Hydrogen Peroxide

This technique serves to open up your eustachian tubes by softening and removing your earwax. Add lukewarm olive oil or hydrogen peroxide to an ear dropper and lie down with the affected ear facing up. Place three to five drops of liquid in your blocked ear and remain in that position for five to ten minutes. Next, switch sides with the affected ear facing down and wait for your ear to drain earwax and excess oil or hydrogen peroxide (make sure to have a towel pressed against your ear while you do this). When you're finished, use a cotton ball or tissue to soak up any liquid at the entrance to your ear canal. You can use this technique three times a day.

4. Warm Compress

Take a wash cloth, run it under warm water, and wring out the water. Apply the cloth to your ear for five to ten minutes, and the fluids in your ear should start to drain.

5. Steaming

Boil a pot of water and transfer it to a large bowl. Create a tent with a towel by covering both yourself and the bowl with it. Inhale the steam to help thin the mucus and earwax in your ear. If you want, you can add a couple of drops of tea tree or lavender oil to the water to further reduce pain and inflammation. Breathe in until you feel your ear canals start to open up.

Similarly, you can also hop in the shower for 10 minutes. If your ear is clogged on your flight and you need quick pain relief, ask your flight attendant for a tea bag and two cups, one empty and one filled with hot water. Steep the tea bag in the cup of hot water, and then transfer the tea to the empty cup, keeping the tea bag and a little bit of water in the first cup. Hold that first cup up to your ear; the tea bag will lock in the heat from the water, and the steam from the tea bag will help relieve your ear pain.

How to Prevent Clogged Ears Next Time

The best way to get rid of an ear blockage is to prevent it from happening in the first place. To that end, here are a few tricks to keeping your eustachian tubes clear on your next flight.

  • Take Sudafed or your preferred decongestant one hour before your flight to thin the mucus in your sinuses. (Of course, follow directions and consult a doctor if there's any question as to whether or not you should take the over-the-counter drugs.)
  • Open up your eustachian tubes by using nasal spray both before you board and 45 minutes prior to landing.
  • Wear earplugs to relieve air pressure mid-flight.
  • Chew gum, yawn, or suck on hard candy when you're taking off and landing.
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