Do your ears pop when skydiving? It’s one thing to take a plane quickly up to a high altitude, but another to then jump out and plummet back down at 120 MPH. How does this affect your ears and equilibrium?

Everyone is a little different, and I’m sure you’ve already experienced ear popping when driving through the mountains or when taking a flight. Some people rarely get or feel these pops, while it can play havoc and even cause pain for others. If your ears are sensitive to the pressures of such altitude changes, it’s helpful to understand more about why your ears pop when skydiving and the possible dangers.

Let’s look at why skydiving sometimes blocks your ears and makes them pop. We can look at what is happening inside when they pop and explore some trusted techniques for unclogging your ears after a skydive.

Will my ears pop when skydiving?

Will my ears pop when skydiving?

If you are someone who regularly feels their ears popping when traveling anywhere at altitude, it will likely happen during your skydive. Having that blocked feeling in your ears can be frustrating, but that ‘popping’ is the relieving moment when they suddenly clear. Even if you aren’t someone who usually gets that ear-popping, there’s a good chance you will when skydiving.

It can start in the jump plane. Ear pops happen when the air pressure in your inner ear is different from the air pressure outside. Air pressure changes with altitude, and the quicker your altitude changes, the faster the air pressure changes, and the harder your ears have to work to equalize. While many people get blocked ears and ear pops on commercial flights, these planes have systems to pressurize the cabins above 3,000 feet. The aircraft used to carry skydivers up to altitude doesn’t, and you feel that change in air pressure as you climb higher. It’s common for some skydivers to have their ears pop on the journey up.

When you leap from the plane and head towards a freefall of 120 MPH, you’re quickly reversing that change in altitude. This sudden change in air pressure puts a lot of stress on your ears as they quickly try to adjust and equalize. Your body tries to counter this by blowing more air into your ear and pumping more blood into the tissue. Eventually, your ears pop as they finally equalize to the air pressure outside.

While it may feel a little uncomfortable for some, most people will be so distracted by the adrenaline and excitement of freefall they won’t even notice it.

Why does skydiving make your ears pop?

Why does skydiving make your ears pop?

When the pressure changes and your ears struggle to adjust fast enough, they may start to feel blocked or clogged up. This feeling is called barotrauma. Inside your ear, you have a Eustachian tube that supplies air to your middle ear. It’s normal for air to get trapped within your middle ear, and when it’s trapped, the Eustachian tube passes through more air to unblock it. It is essentially trying to give you equal amounts of pressure on either side of your eardrums, balanced with the air pressure around you.

When there is a change in air pressure, the Eustachian works hard to keep the pressure balance, but it struggles to keep up when it’s happening too fast. In the unpressured jump plane cabins traveling to altitude, the air pressure is quickly dropping. Then when you jump into freefall, the air pressure is very quickly climbing.

When the pressure changes too quickly and your ears cannot equalize fast enough, it causes the eardrum to bend inwards or outwards; this is the clogged and blocked feeling you get. The popping feeling you get is the eardrum falling back into place and air entering, as the pressure in your middle and inner ear equalize once again. This is usually accompanied by that instant feeling of relief as the discomfort disappears.

Once you pull your parachute and the change in air pressure slows down with your speed, your ears begin to overcome the difference and equalize more easily. However, that clogged feeling may remain and take a bit of time to clear.

How do I unclog my ears after skydiving?

How do I unclog my ears after skydiving?

As the air pressure changes, your Eustachian tube will open automatically to equalize your ear pressure. It also opens any time you swallow, yawn, or blow your nose. Sometimes when your ears don’t pop and unclog, it can be frustrating or even painful. However, there are techniques you can try to help the situation:

Swallowing: By swallowing, you reopen the Eustachian and help the equalizing process, pushing more air into your middle ear. One swallow may not do the trick, so you should try swallowing every few seconds. This technique can also be done very effectively by chewing gum.

Yawing: Yawning works in the same way; you may even feel your ears crackle as you yawn. It doesn’t have to be a genuine yawn. Faking a yawn should do the trick: open your mouth as wide as you can and take a deep breath.

Valsalva maneuver: This is performed by pinching your nose, closing your mouth, and trying to breathe out of your nose. It can be more effective if you try to squeeze your face cheeks in at the same time.

Toynbee maneuver: Similar to the Valsalva maneuver, with this one, instead of trying to breathe out of your nose, you should try to swallow several times.

With each of these methods, it’s critical to be gentle and remain calm. Your eardrum is delicate, and sometimes there can be other factors contributing to that blocked feeling, including an ear infection or dehydration. Although frustrating, it’s occasionally normal for it to take a day or two for your ears to equalize again. You should only start to seek medical advice if this feeling remains for over a week.

Should you wear earplugs when skydiving?

Should you wear earplugs when skydiving?

In extreme cases, these changes in air pressure can lead to more severe damage. Your Eustachian tube can become blocked and be unable to unblock itself. Such problems can sometimes require medication or even surgery to repair the damage. This is one of the dangers when skydiving with already blocked sinuses and why you should never skydive when feeling a little sick or stuffy. Wearing earplugs can make a difference.

Wearing earplugs is a smart option if you have any previous issues with your ears equalizing or are concerned about the possible dangers. As with scuba diving, a good set of earplugs or ear putty can decrease the risks and increase comfort. 

As well as helping to protect against fast air pressure changes, earplugs also help cancel out a lot of the noise you’ll experience on a typical skydive. The jump planes can be basic and noisy vehicles, especially when the door is open. And when you go into freefall, the sound of the air rushing by you can sound aggressive. There isn’t much else to hear when skydiving, so there are no real cons to wearing earplugs on a jump; many skydivers do.