When ears have an altitude problem

The human body didn’t evolve to accommodate travel at 33,000 feet so it’s not surprising that high altitude flying can cause a variety of physical symptoms. In-flight ear pain is one of the most common problems fliers report. The middle ear is an air pocket inside the head, which is vulnerable to air pressure changes. Normally the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose, helps equalize pressure between the middle ear and the outer ear. Eustachian tube size and function varies from person to person, and children tend to have narrower tubes than adults.

When the Eustachian tube is blocked, during a common coldl vacuum develops inside the middle ear. Often this will clear with time but sometimes fluid builds up, blood vessels burst, infection occurs, or the ear drum ruptures. Swallowing and yawning can help open the Eustachian tubes. Be sure not to sleep during the flight — you’ll miss your opportunity to yawn. Some tips to open eardrum are

• Pinch your nostrils shut.

• Take a breath of air.

• Blow your your nose.