Flying can be a real pain in the neck, but for some it can also cause a huge pain in the ear. We're talking about excruciating, stabbing pain that can lead to ringing or fuzzy hearing for hours after you've landed. This intense pain could even cause worse symptoms that include bleeding or temporary hearing loss.
Appropriately named airplane ear, this condition is pretty common and is caused by rapid changes in altitude or air pressure, which causes an unequal pressure between your middle ear and the air outside your ear. This makes your eardrum bulge outward or retract inward, which hurts, and can even cause a ruptured eardrum (which causes discharge that's sometimes bloody). You've probably also experienced it when swimming in deep water or driving through the mountains.
Swallowing or yawning should help ease your discomfort because the Eustachian tube, which connects your middle ear to the back of your nose, opens and allows air to flow into or out of your middle ear, equalizing the pressure. If you're congested though because of a cold or allergies, this tube can be blocked, causing pain, muffled sound, and temporary hearing loss.
To prevent this from happening on future flights, try taking an over-the-counter decongestant such as Sudafed about 30 to 60 minutes before your flight. This will help to dry up mucus from your nose and sinuses. While you're flying, chew gum or suck on a cough drop. This will encourage frequent swallowing, which helps to activate the muscles that open your Eustachian tubes. Also, don't sleep when the plane is taking off or landing, so you can be sure you're swallowing often.