How To Avoid Severe Ear Pain On An Airplane

by SharonKurheg

We’ve all been there. You have a cold, really bad allergies or a sinus or ear infection, you’re on a plane at nearly 35,000 feet and your ears are just about KILLING you. They’re not popping, the pressure is building, you’re afraid you’re going to break an eardrum, and all the gum, candy and swallowing in the world doesn’t help. But there’s nothing you can do except suck it up and accept the pain, right?


Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to EarPlanes.
Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 3.43.41 PMAs per the website of their manufacturer, EarPlanes, “are a patented pressure-regulating earplug inserted in the ear to help reduce discomfort often associated with air travel. They were developed by Cirrus Healthcare Products LLC in conjunction with the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, and have been tested by US Navy aviators at the Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego.”


Photo via

“EarPlanes consist of two elements: a hypoallergenic silicone earplug and a ceramic pressure regulator. The silicone earplug has four circumferential rings which provide an airtight seal between the product and ear canal. The ceramic element is a controlled porosity filter, one end of which is exposed to the external cabin pressure, with the opposite end exposed to the sealed chamber formed when the earplug is inserted in the ear. Thus, as the cabin air pressure changes, a pressure differential is created across the ceramic filter, thereby causing air to flow through the filter. The filter acts as an impedance to the flow of air into and out of the ear canal.

Discomfort is caused by blockage and/or swelling of a passenger’s Eustachian tube(s) [those are part of the middle ear – they are connected to the area where your nasal sinuses are]. The air pressure changes induced by the aircraft’s descent are too rapid for the blocked Eustachian tubes to adjust properly. However, EarPlanes, provide an equal but opposite impedance on the exterior of the middle ear, allowing relief. Discomfort is reduced because the air pressure difference on the exterior and interior of the middle ear is lessened allowing the Eustachian tubes to function more normally.”

(In other words, your ears hurt because your middle ear is impacted by your swollen sinuses and can’t keep up with the change in air pressure that’s happening while you’re in the plane. The EarPlanes, when inserted, slow down the pressure change so everything has time to adjust).

When you have EarPlanes, you insert them into your ears until, essentially, you’ve made an air-tight seal (you can tell because your hearing is significantly decreased). Opening and/or closing your mouth, and/or pulling on the top or side of your ear may help you get them in correctly. Then, once you’re in the air, you’ll hear them clicking here and there as they slowly change the pressure in your ear (they don’t mention this anywhere in their directions and the first time I used them, I was scared to death because I didn’t know what to expect. Now you know.). They say you can remove them while you’re at your highest altitude, but I prefer to keep them in until I land. And yes, every time I’ve had to use them, my ears have been pain free! (That being said, my outer ears have sometimes been a little sore, especially on longer flights, from where the EarPlanes were touching them so tightly, but it passes within an hour or less and I’ll take that over feeling like my ear drum was being pulled out ANY day!)

The manufacturer says to replace your EarPlanes periodically due to particles of smoke, pollen and airborne bacteria eventually “clogging” the filter and reduce effectiveness. Frankly, I lose sets often enough to have to replace them every 5-10 uses anyway. Your mileage may vary.


Adult (L) & child (R) sized EarPlanes. Quarter for size comparison. Each set of EarPlanes comes with its own case.

EarPlanes are made in both adult and children’s sizes (they say to use the kid-sized ones for age 1 to 11. I’m a very short adult with small ears and, I’ve been told by my doctor, tiny ear canals, but the adult size work better for me). Frankly, I’m not sure how you would know they’re inserted correctly if a child is too young to explain/understand the air-tight aspect of their use. But as an adult, I can tell you EarPlanes are the bomb-diggity!

EarPlanes and Children’s EarPlanes are available at all major drug, mass, supermarket and airport retailers such as, CVS, Walgreens, Eckerd, Osco, Sav-On, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, Kroger, Paradies, Hudson News, Host Marriott, etc. They’re also available in the United Kingdom at Boots, Superdrug, Lloyds and other chemists, and at airports and chemists throughout Europe, Israel, Japan, and Australia.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary



Joey April 13, 2019 - 11:32 pm

Sounds like you have to use these ear plugs before departure and throughout the flight? How would you use IFE?
Normally what I do is bring one of those nose sprays or use a decongestant pill an hour before landing.

SharonKurheg April 14, 2019 - 8:10 am

I guess that wouldn’t be possible. But if given a choice, I’d take no movie over feeling like my ears were going to explode ;-).

kabukijuul February 5, 2021 - 9:18 am

Over the ear headphones like Bose noise canceling works fine with earplanes. I have been using them for years. They work really well. Flying used to be painful for me.

Bill G February 5, 2021 - 8:30 pm

@JOEY If you have a long flight you can remove them once reaching cruising altitude and re-insert them and hour or so before landing.

Randy February 5, 2021 - 9:27 pm

You should only need them at takeoff and then about 10 minutes before starting final decent. They do not need to be worn during cruise, as there is no pressure change during that part of the flight.


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