There are great and safe ways to unclog your ears after a flight

An unfortunate side effect that can often come with air travel is clogged ears. Aside from being uncomfortable, it can be inconvenient and a nuisance to arrive somewhere and barely be able to hear. While your ears will eventually unclog themselves, there are safe, natural, and effective ways to get the job done sooner than that.

The problem arises because the middle ear, connected to the outside world via the Eustachian tube and running to the back of the nose, cannot keep up with the pressure changes during the ascent and descent of an airplane. The result is clogged ears, which is an issue that can range from uncomfortable and annoying to extremely painful.

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The condition is technically called barotrauma of the ear, or barotitis media. Five percent of all adults and 25 percent of children get clogged ears from flying. Luckily, there are much better solutions than waiting to pop your clogged ears after a flight.

The Valsalva Maneuver

“The Valsalva Maneuver is safe if you do it correctly, but be careful, because doing it with too much force can damage your eardrums.”

This is the most common method and easiest of getting your clogged ears back to normal. The Valsalva Maneuver is safe if you do it correctly, but be careful, because doing it with too much force can damage your eardrums.

To unclog your ears with this method, close your mouth, pinch your nose shut, and gently blow from your nose. You should feel the release from your ears as a popping sensation. This works by equalizing the pressure built up in your Eustachian tubes.

The Valsalva Maneuver does not always work, particularly if your ears are really clogged. However, for typical cases of clogged ears, it should do the trick.

The Toynbee Maneuver

Similar to the Valsalva Maneuver, the Toynbee Maneuver also works by equalizing ear pressure. To perform this method, pinch your nose shut, then swallow.

It may help instead of just trying to swallow to drink some water slowly. This method is safer than the Valsalva Maneuver, as there is a much slimmer chance of damaging your eardrums by forcing too much air out too quickly.

The Frenzel Maneuver

If both the Valsalva Maneuver and the Toynbee Maneuver don’t work, you can try the Frenzel Maneuver. This method involves making a “k” sound with your nose pinched shut.

“The Frenzel Maneuver can also help to equalize pressure in the middle ear. “

Use hydrogen peroxide or olive oil

Both hydrogen peroxide and olive oil can work to soften and eliminate earwax from the Eustachian tubes. Unlike the other methods, a little bit of preparation and some minor equipment is necessary. You’ll need either hydrogen peroxide or olive oil, an ear dropper, and lukewarm water.

To unclog your ears with this method, add the lukewarm water to either the hydrogen peroxide or olive oil in an ear dropper. Then lie down on your side with the ear that is clogged facing up.

Put three to five drops from the ear dropper into your clogged ear and lie still in that position for around five or ten minutes. Now lie in the same position but on the other side with the clogged ear facing down with a towel under your head.

“Both hydrogen peroxide and olive oil can work to soften and eliminate earwax from the Eustachian tubes.”

This will allow the liquid in your ear plus any earwax to drain and unclog your ear canal. You can sop up any excess fluid in your ear with a cotton ball. If both of your ears are clogged, you can lie on one side first, then continue the process with the other side when you’re finished.

Try a warm compress

Another method to unclog your ears after a flight is by using a warm compress. Soak a washcloth in warm water and wring it out, so it isn’t dripping. Place the warm washcloth over your clogged ear and leave it for between five and ten minutes. This should help to drain the fluids clogged in your ear.

Use steam

“Steam can also help to get your ears unclogged following a flight.”

There are a couple of different ways you can steam the pressure out of your ears. The simplest way would be to take a hot shower, making sure the bathroom is trapping the steam inside (no windows or doors open while showering).

Another option is to boil water, transfer it into a bowl immediately, and, with a towel over your head, create a tent over the bowl. Once you’re inside this do-it-yourself steam room, breathe deeply in and out for as long as it takes to get your ears unclogged. This can help to thin any mucus or earwax caught in your ear canal.

Putting lavender or tea tree oil in the boiling water can also help with inflammation.

“Once you’re inside this do-it-yourself steam room, breathe deeply in and out for as long as it takes to get your ears unclogged.”

If you’re still on a flight and your clogged ears are causing a lot of pain, you can create a mini-steam contraption using tea bags and hot water. Get two cups, one filled with hot water and one empty.

Steep the tea as you usually would in the cup of hot water for a few minutes, then pour most of the tea into the empty cup. In the original cup, leave the wet tea bag and a small amount of hot water, and hold that cup over your ear. The steam from the cup should help to unclog your ear a bit and reduce the pain.

Prevent your ears from clogging in the first place

Before a flight, you can take a decongestant, so the mucus in your sinuses gets thinned out. You can also use a nasal spray before the flight and before landing to keep your Eustachian tubes clear. Wearing earplugs during your flight can also minimize pressure issues in your ears.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

“Jet setters’ best travel hacks” – Living101
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“Three easy ways to avoid getting sick after vacation” – Living101
Simple actions you can do to prevent sickness after traveling.