Why Do My Ears Pop on Planes?

Lady Looking Out of Plane Window

Many people have difficulty equalizing pressure in their ears while flying. If your ears don’t equalize, it’s usually on plane landing. Some only experience a fullness or pressure in their ears. Others have pain and hearing loss. In most individuals the pressure equalizes shortly after landing. In some it may persist for much longer.

Planes must be pressurized for passenger and crew comfort. At an altitude of 20,000-30,000 feet it is difficult to breath as there’s less oxygen at those altitudes. Commercial planes are usually pressurized to an altitude of 6,000-8,000 feet. At that pressure we can breathe normally. At higher altitudes the air pressure is less as the air is thinner.

The eustachian tubes are tubes in our bodies that equalize pressure in our ears. They normally open every time we swallow allowing the pressure inside our ears to equalize with the pressure around us. If they don’t open normally, the pressure in our ears doesn’t equalize causing problems.

If the plane is pressurized to 6,000 feet on the way up and our ears have adjusted to that pressure, the ears feel normal. It’s easier for the eustachian tubes to open on plane ascent.

When the plane lands the plane pressure is allowed to return to whatever the pressure is outside the plane. This will be a greater air pressure than 6,000 feet. If the eustachian tubes open normally the ears feel well. If they don’t, then the pressure in our ears is much lower than the pressure around us. This causes pressure on the ear drums from the outside and causes fullness, hearing loss and/or pain.

Most often this pressure imbalance equalizes naturally and the symptoms resolve. If it doesn’t, medical attention by an ear doctor may be necessary.

At Advanced Specialty Care, we offer same day, urgent care appointments in DanburyNew MilfordNorwalkRidgefield and Southbury, CT for situations like just like this. From pediatric to adult ENT and audiology, our doctors are able to diagnose and treat everything from strep throat and ear infections to thyroid disease and swallowing disorders.

If you have questions about or would like to schedule an appointment at one of our convenient Fairfield or Litchfield County office locations in DanburyNew Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Southbury, please call our office at (203) 830-4700 or simply click here to fill out an appointment request form

Advanced Specialty Care is a multi-specialty private practice caring for patients in Fairfield County, CT for over 30 years. We are committed to the well-being of our patients. In addition to Ear, Nose & Throat, we have expertise in Head and Neck Surgery, Allergy & Asthma,Audiology, Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery, Dermatology and Skin Care and Hand Surgery. Our six, convenient Connecticut offices include, Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Southbury and Stamford.


Topics: Blog, Dr. Jeffrey Monroe, Ear, Nose & Throat