Ear problems are the most common medical complaint of air travelers. Here are some tips to prevent ear pain when flying.
Despite the relative ease and convenience of air travel, even the most experienced travelers will still experience a popping sensation in their ears during takeoff and landing. In fact, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, ear problems are the most common medical complaint of air travelers.
Your head contains tiny pockets of air in your ears and sinuses. Passages called the Eustachian tubes go between your ears and the back of your nose in order to help equalize the pressure in your ears with the pressure in the world around you. Changes in altitude and air pressure can cause the pressure in your ear to become too great or too little. When flying, particularly during takeoff and landing, the altitude and surrounding air pressure change rapidly and your Eustachian tubes are not always able to easily equalize the pressure in your ears. As a result, you may experience muffled sounds, a pressure in your ears, or even pain. In severe cases, the pressure may cause your ear drums to rupture. Flying with a cold or upper respiratory congestion can make ear problems worse and should be avoided if at all possible. Certain allergies can also add to ear pain. If you suffer from allergies, make certain to take your allergy medication.
In many cases, you can prevent or ease ear pain and other problems simply by yawning or swallowing. Some travelers find that chewing gum, sucking on candy or remaining awake during takeoff and landing also improve their ear problems. You may also try hardening the back of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Another helpful remedy is called the Valsalva maneuver. It involves holding your nostrils closed and carefully blowing out the nose until you feel your ear pressure equalize. This may need to be done several times throughout the flight.
Other travelers have found it beneficial to use nasal decongestants just before takeoff and descent. Oral decongestants or antihistamines may also help but be sure to drink plenty of liquids before and during the trip since these oral medications can dry out your throat and nasal passages.
Some companies sell filtered earplugs which help to slowly equalize the pressure in your ears. These can usually be found at drugstores or travel stores. You can also find them online by using the search term “filtered earplugs for air travel.”
Children are more at risk for ear pain since their Eustachian tubes are narrower than those of adults. Older children will probably be able to follow most of these tips. However, younger children, particularly infants, may need to drink from a cup or bottle during takeoff and descent. Be sure your child is sitting upright rather than lying down while drinking. It is also a wise idea to have your baby’s ears checked by a doctor before flying. Children with tubes in their ears will not need to worry about pressure equalization at all. Due to the tubes, the pressure is equalized automatically.
If your symptoms do not go away within a few hours after landing or the pain gets worse, contact a doctor.
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