Pain in the ears when traveling by airplane is usually due to the fact that the air -pressure in the inner ear is less than the air pressure in the cabin, so the inner ear needs to be re-supplied with air in order to bring the two in equilibrium. This may cause a tightening pain in the inner ear, dull sense of hearing or a sense of blockage of the ear canal.
To deal with it, the Eustachian tube, through which the air passes on its way to the inner ear, needs to be opened and this can be achieved by swallowing, yawning and chewing. The Eustachian tube may also be blocked due to a cold or an infection of the throat, so it is recommended to stay hydrated since in the case of dehydration the mucus of the nose and the Eustachian tube become sticky.
Some people’s Eustachian tube does not open as easily as others’, so pressure cannot be equated efficiently. A good way to deal with such cases is to apply the Valsalva maneuver, which is accomplished by shutting the nose and mouth while exhaling at the same time from the nose. No air will come out but the ears will “pop” when the pressure gets balanced. This practice is not helpful to young children because their Eustachian tube is not fully developed.