Pressure build up causing ear pain when flying
If you fly on a regular basis - or even if you have had just one experience riding on a plane - you have probably experienced an "ear popping" sensation. The reason for the "popping" sensation is simply because the air at the height airplanes fly is less dense than the air that flows in and out of your ears while standing firm on the ground. When you're on an airplane the air at that level doesn't have heavier air pushing down on it. In other words, there's less density. It's the same reason why astronauts have to wear spacesuits, but on a smaller scale.
Testing the limits of gravity some planes fly so high in the sky that oxygen masks are required for the crew and passengers or the cabin is fully pressurized. For the convenience of the passengers and crew, most commercial airplanes flying at high altitudes have a pressurized cabin. Airplanes are limited as to how high they can go since planes need some air to achieve lift on the wings. Plus, it's hard to convince a group of fliers to wear their seat belts let alone wear a spacesuit.
What Goes Up...
While you are climbing to your set altitude, the air pressure decreases. Air becomes trapped in your inner ear. This causes your eardrums to move or "push" forward. You also experience a diminished ability to hear due to the pressure on your eardrums which makes it more difficult for sound to vibrate like it should. Your body makes an attempt to equalize the pressure in your inner ear by allowing air to pass through two small tubes connecting your inner ears and throat. This equalization of pressure is the "pop" you hear in your ear!
...Must Come Down
If you think you're in the clear once you have experienced that initial "pop" upon takeoff, you're forgetting one very important thing: what goes up must come down! As you are on your way down, air pressure inside the airplane increases. By now, your ear has adjusted to the new lower pressure. This increase in pressure forces the eardrums to move inward. Your ear will find a natural balance again, but most people don't like the discomfort they feel until that happens. What to do about It? There are many remedies to avoid going through this pressure adjustment. Chewing gum works sometimes, but pressure equalizing earplugs are your best remedy. You'll want to insert the earplugs before take-off and leave them in until the plane reaches its steady altitude. You can take them out them and enjoy your flight or leave them in to tone down the engine noise. Insert the earplugs back into your ear about an hour before the plane is scheduled to land giving your ears time to adjust to the new pressure you just created by inserting the earplugs. After you land all remove your earplugs and you should be in the clear!
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