You’re most likely to experience intense pain during take-off and landing, especially if you’re congested. If you’re really stuffed up, it’s best to reschedule travel plans if at all possible. If you can’t reschedule, consider using a decongestant nasal spray about 30 minutes before take-off. If you opt for an oral decongestant, do so with caution and be sure to read all of the warnings on the label beforehand.
Yawning, swallowing, and/or chewing gum during take-off and landing can help. Essentially, the motion helps to clear you eustachian tubes, releasing the pressure in your ears.
You can clear your eustachian tubes with a bit more force by closing your mouth, plugging your nose, and gently passing air through your ears by activating your muscles like you’re trying to blow your nose. That motion is known as the Valsalva maneuver. You can repeat it several times if necessary but be sure not to push too hard and if you experience pain stop immediately.
If you travel frequently, consider investing in filtered air plugs, which slowly equalize the air pressure around your middle and inner ears. We custom make fit the plugs after taking a mold of your ears and they are reusable for many, many years.