Flying affects ear pressure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 November, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 November, 1993, 12:00am

WHY is it that one's ears seem to hurt more on an aircraft when it is landing than when it is taking off? The Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear and the back of the nose, normally opens periodically to equalise air pressure on both sides of the eardrum.

If the change in external pressure is sudden and rapid, however, pressure may build up on one side of the eardrum, pushing it inward or outward.

If the plane is taking off, the cabin pressure is reduced by about one-third and the pressure inside the ear is greater than the external pressure.

A popping sensation may be felt as air trapped at ground-level pressure in the middle ear and sinuses escapes. This is usually painless as the pressure is away from sensitive tissue.

The reverse is true upon landing; the increasing pressure in the cabin becomes greater than the pressure within the ears and sinuses and the inward pressure on the eardrum can be quite painful.

To ease this pain, air needs to be reintroduced into the middle ear and sinuses by yawning or swallowing hard or by holding the nose and mouth shut and ''blowing'' the nose very gently, a technique called the Valsalva manoeuvre.