You know the drill. You're halfway through your flight, when finally sweet, sweet slumber takes over. All too soon, the flight attendant (or in some cases, the person beside you) shakes you awake, saying, "We're starting our descent now."
And while you might groan and curse their eagerness, they're actually doing you and your hearing a big favour.
Earlier on HuffPost:
As the Independent reports (and as anyone who's flown on a plane knows), during takeoff and landing, a plane's pressure changes. And particularly when it comes to the descent, the change in altitude can plug up the tube that connects our inner ears to our throats, potentially causing hearing loss.
Called "ear barotrauma," it occurs when the pressure inside our ear is different than the pressure outside our ear, according to the New York Times. It's easy to prevent by yawning or swallowing, but if you're sleeping, well, you probably won't be doing either of those things.
It can also be caused just by your anatomy, which will be apparent if you always experience ear pain when flying. In some people, the Eustachian tube (the one that connects the middle ear and the throat, and which helps equalize pressure) may be more narrow or blocked in some way, such as by mucus, notes Patient Info.
Usually barotrauma will just take a few hours to clear up, but if it doesn't, a health professional might recommend antihistamines, decongestants, or steroids to ease the pain. Decongestants, for example, can dry up mucus that might be creating this ear pressure problem.
Of course, ear pain isn't the only health problem that can come out of an airplane. There's plenty of research to show that blood clots can develop in your legs when you're sedentary for a long time (but it's less of a risk for short people!), and even boarding first-class can make you more susceptible to picking up other people's germs.
One thing is for sure — those flight attendants aren't trying to piss you off when they rouse you from your snooze, so it's a good idea to get that table tray locked in, move your chair upright and let out a big yawn to keep your hearing intact.
Also on HuffPost: