8 Ways to Save Your Ears When Flying with a Cold

Not being able to pop your ears on a flight can be an excruciating experience. I’ve been dealing with this issue for the last little while, as I seem to always come down with a sinus infection the day before departure. Talk about impeccable timing!

If you have a bad sinus infection, doctors will recommend you to either cancel or change your travel plans until it clears up, but let’s be real, this isn’t always something you can or want to do. So, if you absolutely have to fly, instead of suffering through take off and landing, try some of my following techniques for preventing and dealing with plugged ears:

8 Ways to Save Your Ears When Flying with a Cold

8. Take an over-the-counter decongestant

About 20 minutes before you take off and descend, take a decongestant. This will open up your sinus tubes and help prevent or alleviate the pain.

7. Always pack gum and or chewy candy 

Not only will gum keep your breath smelling delicious, but chomping on something chewy will help your ears to pop. If you don’t have gum but you have candy, this will also help. As long as you have something that will produce more saliva in your mouth and cause you to swallow more, this can help to pop your ears.

6. Sip on Water

If you don’t have gum or candy, taking sips of water continuously also helps. Every time you swallow, you have a chance of popping your ears in a non-intrusive and gentle way. 

5. Yawn, Blow, Swallow

Yawning, swallowing, or blowing while pinching your nose should help reduce the pressure in your ears. Just be sure to not do this too hard as it can rupture your ear drum and cause may more discomfort.

4. Use a Neti Pot  

Everyday for at least a week before departure, clean out your sinus passage using a neti pot. The neti pot is a container designed to rinse debris or mucus from nasal cavity and has been used for centuries. All you do is add about 1/2 teaspoon of Himalayan sea salt to enough warm water to fill your neti pot, and pour the water into each nostril.

3. Don’t Sleep During Take off or Landing

If you are asleep during take off and landing, you will not be able to equalize which could lead to pressure build up in your sinuses. Make sure to set an alarm so that you wake up before ascent or decent. You can also ask a flight attendant to wake you up if you don’t have an alarm.

2. Hold a Cup of Napkins Soaked in Hot Water to Your Ears

Yes, you will look ridiculous, but this may be my favourite technique of all. Ask one of the flight attendants to give you a cup of hot water along with several napkins. Take those napkins and soaked them in the hot water. Place the cup up to the ear that is plugged (use two cups if both are plugged), cover and hold it tight. I also find it even more soothing to take the hot wet napkin out of the cup and hold it directly over the ear while tilting that ear close to your shoulder.

1. Don’t Stress!

I remember the first time I dealt with horrible pleasure build up in my ears and they would not pop for days! This can be a traumatizing experience because you think that they will never clear up and you will go through life feeling like you have cotton balls in your ears. Although it can be scary, try to remain calm. Your ears will pop eventually pop and it will like you’ve had a mini orgasm. If however, your ears haven’t popped in 24 hours, I would recommend seeing a doctor who can either pop them for you or give you antibiotics to help clear up those sinuses.

Have you ever dealt with your ear not popping?

Share your story below!

Kristen Sarah is a full-time traveller, tiny home owner and adventure junkie. She has one of the leading YouTube travel channels and is the head honcha of award-winning travel and lifestyle website, Hopscotch the Globe.

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19 Comments

  1. Lori
    February 21, 2017 / 12:33 am

    I have actually had my eardrums rupture while flying with a cold. Very painful and I still have trouble with them years later when flying. I can’t take a decongestant pill because of medication that I am on so I use a decongestant nasal spray instead. I have used the ear planes for years and rather than cups with napkins and hot water a flight attendant once told me to try the disposable hot packs that you put in your mitts in the winter time. I use them all the time now along with the ear planes, nasal spray and gum chewing. Even with all these things, my ears still give me trouble when I fly but it would be a lot worse if I didn’t use them and I don’t care how ridiculous I look.

  2. Lori Dundas
    February 21, 2017 / 12:29 am

    I have actually had my eardrums rupture while flying with a cold. Very painful and I still have trouble with them years later when flying. I can’t take a decongestant pill because of medication that I am on so I use a decongestant nasal spray instead. I have used the ear planes for years and rather than cups with napkins and hot water a flight attendant once told me to try the disposable hot packs that you put in your mitts in the winter time. I use them all the time now along with the ear planes, nasal spray and gum chewing. Even with all these things, my ears still give me trouble when I fly but it would be a lot worse if I didn’t use them and I don’t care how ridiculous I look.

  3. Jenna
    March 4, 2016 / 2:23 pm

    I’m flying in couple of days and this post was just what I needed. I don’t actually have a cold, but I do have a runny nose. I really really hope that my ears stay fine.

    I’m anxious about the take off, actually have been since I was a kid. The first time I ever flew in a plane I had a cold and my ears reacted, badly. They just wouldn’t pop at all and the entire flight was torture. Think all of those kids that cry the entire flight, I was that kid. The pain was horrible and that has stayed with me ever since. I’m not afraid of flying but I absolutely abhorr take off’s and landings, I am always expecting it to be painful.

  4. December 22, 2015 / 3:10 pm

    I’v never been flying with a cold. But I always have problem with my ears in a plane. Probably it’s awful feeling. Your tips sound useful and look cute 🙂

    • December 26, 2015 / 9:25 am

      Have you tried any of the techniques I’ve mentioned? The decongestants combined with the hot cups are the best.

      • December 28, 2015 / 9:48 am

        Usually I just chewy candy and yawn or blow. Your technique sounds helpful, I\’ll try it next time 🙂 I\’ll have fun )

        • January 2, 2016 / 8:54 am

          That’s worked for me too, but lately I’ve had a lot more issues with my ears and these techniques have been quite helpful. Whatever works just as long as no one is pain 🙂

  5. November 21, 2015 / 6:20 am

    LOL ! The excruciating pain that you can get is I think akin to childbirth 🙁 I doubled up on medications on my last trip, using Mucinex AND Nyquil and it worked to perfection. Love the video !

    • November 24, 2015 / 9:50 am

      Glad you enjoyed the video! I doubled up last time and was fine as well. Thank goodness!

  6. November 17, 2015 / 12:52 am

    In general I think my ears hurt more than other passengers but on my last trip I had a cold as well and it was hell! I thought my ears would explode the minute we started losing altitude and my ears wouldn't pop and I couldn't hear well for 2 days :S

    • November 29, 2015 / 1:05 am

      Oh man I feel your pain! It’s the worst. You actually feel like you’re ears will never be the same again or you’ll go deaf. So scary. What have you been doing to help your ears? Have you tried any of the techniques I’ve mentioned? Do any of them work for you?
      Kristen Sarah recently posted..10 Obscene Hand Gestures Around the WorldMy Profile

  7. November 12, 2015 / 1:25 am

    My ears are incredibly sensitive to this! When I go on a plane it can take up to 14 days for my ears to get back to normal, literally. I found these things called “earplanes” before going on a big trip in 2005, and they saved me! They are like little ear plugs and when I take them out after my flight my ears are totally normal! You can get them at a Walgreens or other drugstore for around $15, and I’ve even seen them in airports lately. They are inexpensive, but one of the most valuable things I travel with!

    • November 15, 2015 / 10:22 pm

      I’ve been told by quite a few people about these earplugs now. I haven’t tried them myself yet but I am very curious to. I’m going to get a set for my next flight. Thanks for your suggestion!

  8. November 10, 2015 / 11:03 am

    Oh, it sucks flying with a cold! The cups against your ears definitely work, I don’t even care how ridiculous it looks haha!
    Rianne recently posted..Tanji Fishing VillageMy Profile

    • November 10, 2015 / 2:04 pm

      It really does. It’s so soothing. I’m so glad I discovered that technique when I did. It was a life savour. Do you have problems with your ears often?

    • November 10, 2015 / 2:03 pm

      Oh no! How long did it last for? Are you feeling better now?

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