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Has Flight in a Glider Affected My Ear?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 24 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Ear Earache Ears Ear Popping Eustachian


Hello I am 14 years of age and in the air cadets. On sunday I was at 3200 feet in the air in a glider and turned around - as I did this my right ear made a kind of popping noise. A couple of minutes later it did it again but it is very irritating when ever I itch it or touch it. Even when I make loud noises or anything like that it makes a kind of funny noise and sort of hurts.

Can you please help me I don't know what else to do.
Thank you very much.

(D.T, 7 April 2009)


Firstly, it is very unlikely that you have seriously damaged your ears but you may need to check out the problem with your doctor if it doesn’t get better in a few days.

What you have experienced is similar to the ‘ear popping’ that happens when you go on an ordinary flight on holiday. When you land, the rapid change in the air pressure outside your ear drum compared to the inside of your ear drum causes the same effect.

The inner part of your ear is enclosed at the ear itself. However, it does have an opening that goes to the back of the throat – this is called the Eustachian tube. When the air pressure is not balanced between the inner ear and the air outside, air enters or leaves through the Eustachian tube and the ‘pop’ is caused by this equalisation of pressure. This can happen when you go up and down in a lift in a tall building, or when you are diving underwater – it is not restricted just to flying.

When you were gliding, what you felt in your ear may not have been caused by the turn that the glider made – this was just the point that your ears popped as air was passing through the Eustachian tube because your ear pressure was not the same as the external air pressure. Often, the Eustachian tube is blocked or partially blocked – this happens every time you get a cold. When this very thin tube is blocked, the air pressure cannot become balanced, so the popping happens again and again. The pressure in your inner ear was not equalised properly. When this doesn’t happen, your ear produces a fluid to try to equalise the pressure instead – and this produces the symptoms you describe. Noises are a bit muffled, the ear can be painful and things just don’t sound right.

If the pain carries on, your doctor can check the affected ear and make sure that you aren’t developing fluid in the ear, which can lead to a condition known as otitis. Very rarely, he or she may have to relieve the pressure by making a tiny hole in your ear drum but usually the problem sorts itself out.

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