We’ve all been conditioned to throw a pack of gum in our carry-ons to chew on when we take to the sky. But why do we do it? Yes, it seems to help the shooting pain in our ears, but why?
Spoiler alert: it’s not the gum.
Chewing and swallowing are the unsung heroes. They engage the muscles that surround the Eustachian tube and let out air to relieve the buildup of pressure inside the ear.
The pain you feel (typically during take off and landing) is called airplane ear or barotrauma. Pressurizing the cabin can cause an unbalance of pressure in the middle ear which creates stress on the inner ear. Next thing you know, you’re in serious pain. Sometimes the discomfort can even last a few days after the flight. Thankfully, chewing gum seems to spare us the trauma.
But don’t worry, gum haters – I got you.
Since the pain relief isn’t dependent on the actual piece of gum, try sucking on a piece of candy (because everyone can use another excuse to eat candy) or sipping some water. Speaking of water, staying hydrated before and during the flight will keep everything in your nose and ears flowing and happy clappy.
Another alternative is the Valsalva maneuver. Close your mouth, pinch your nostrils together, and gently blow your nose (minus the snot and tissues). Or, do a little online shopping and buy some filtered earplugs.
If you’re suffering from allergies or a cold, you might want to be proactive and take an anti-inflammatory half an hour before your flight to reduce the excess pressure in your sinuses.
Don’t forget to try these tips next time you’re traveling to let your ears know how much you care about them.