Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why do your ears pop in airplanes?” Good question. (Besides, it beats answering the question: “Why do people pee in airplane sinks?” Seriously? People are stupid and/or ignorant. Either that or they’re guys and are confused because there’s no shower stall to use maybe.)
Why do your ears pop in airplanes? It’s all about the air pressure. It’s all about your body equalizing things. But let the experts explain in more detail.
The folks at Gizmodo and PhysicsOrg both confirm that inside of your ears there are pockets of air. Specifically inside your eardrums there are air-filled chambers. These air-filled chambers are connected by tiny open tubes to the air space in the back of your nose. The tubes equalize pressure between the inside and outside of your ears. They open when you swallow and when the pressure equalizes you usually feel a pop.
The pockets are generally at the same pressure as the air on the outside of your head in order to aid you in hearing. If, however, the air pressure around you changes then you will notice the air pressing on your eardrum.
So why do your ears pop in airplanes? In an airplane, the high altitude basically means that the air is thinner. While the aircraft is pressurized, the air pressure in the plane is still significantly less than on the ground. That difference in the air pressure can be felt in your ears especially at takeoff and landing when the changes in altitude occur quite quickly.
Some sources indicate it is a bit more common during a landing when the airplane comes down and the air pressure in the cabin rises. This is when the tiny tubes from your nose may not allow enough air through quickly enough. The air pressure in your inner ears remains low and the higher pressure of the cabin air forces it into your eardrum.
Why do your ears pop in airplanes? Now you know.
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