When you’re on a plane, what do you do?

Many people chew gum during a flight.

Smokers or ex-smokers, for example, thus find a replacement to cigarettes. Other flyers chew gum to relieve boredom.

There’s also a group who do it for health reasons: chewing gum, as well as sucking on candy, has for some time been advised as one of the methods to stop ears popping on an airplane.

But now “flying doctor” Ben MacFarlane, author of Holiday SOS: Lifesaving Adventures of a Travelling Doctor, has cautioned that chewing gum at take-off or landing could be a choking risk. He wrote:

Chewing makes us swallow more air – just like fizzy water. It’s also a choke-risk in turbulence or bumpy landings.

Wiggling your lower jaw and doing some big fake yawns sorts your ears out more safely.

Something else not to do during take-off and descent is to sleep, as this reduces the frequency of swallowing, which could result in blocked ears.

Why in the Past Chewing Gum had Been Recommended during Flights

What is called “aeroplane ear” is fairly common (although in varying degrees), as earache or blocked feeling in the ear can be caused by changes in pressure.

The pressure inside and outside the ear is different. When the pressure inside your ear becomes too rapidly different from the air pressure in the airplane cabin, as it happens during take-off and landing, the sudden change puts pressure on the middle ear and causes discomfort or pain.

Chewing gum and sucking on candy, by inducing the production of saliva, make you swallow, and frequent swallowing helps equalising the air pressure inside and outside of your ear.

But these new recommendations say gums and candies are contraindicated at take-off and landing.