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During climbs and descents, gas in the body expands due to the pressure difference between the air from outside of the body and within the body. Pressure differences between the middle ear and the outside are equalized by a tube leading from the inside of each ear to the back of the throat on each side, this is called the Eustachian tube.

If the gas is unable to escape, the pressure builds up in the cavities and becomes painful. Trapped gases that expand, causes the ear pain and sinus pain, and a temporary reduction in being able to hear.

Some ways to clear or equalize the pressure in the middle ears is to try yawning, chewing, or even swallowing. If that doesn’t work try pinch the nostrils shut, close the mouth and lips, and blow slowly and gently into the mouth and nose.

Upper respiratory infection from a cold or an allergic condition can slow the equalization in the sinuses. Just like the middle ear, it is also caused by the pressure differences between the sinuses and the flight deck. A sinus block occurs in the frontal sinuses above the eyebrows, or in the maxillary of the upper cheeks.

Avoid flying with an upper respiratory infection or nasal allergies. If sinus congestion or blockage does not clear after landing, consult a physician. Sinus blockage mostly occurs during descent and can be painful. To help reduce the pain, try to make a slower descent.

Pilots should be aware that decongestant medicines’ have side effects that can impair a pilot’s performance.


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