Ear pain whilst flying or ‘airplane ear’ is the stress that is exerted on your eardrum and other middle ear tissues when the air pressure in the middle ear and the air pressure in the environment are unbalanced. You will experience the pain at the start of the flight whilst climbing or at the end while descending.
Airplane ear is manifested as:
- Discomfort and pain in the ears
- Fullness in the ears
- Muffled hearing
Generally, you can do things on your own to manage the condition. In case the pain, fullness or lowered hearing lasts longer than 3 to 5 hours, call the doctor.
What Causes Ear Pain During Flying?
When there is an imbalance in the air pressure in the middle ear and in the environment, the eardrum does not vibrate as it should. Regulating the air pressure is the work of the Eustachian tube. One end of the tube is connected to the middle ear and the other end has a small aperture where the posterior aspect of the nasal cavity and the top of the throat meet.
When the plane climbs or descends, the air pressure in the environment changes quickly, and the Eustachian tube frequently does not react fast enough. This causes discomfort and pain in the ear.
How To Prevent Ear Pain When Flying?
- Yawn and swallow whilst you climb and descent. Yawning and swallowing stimulate the muscles which open the Eustachian tube. You could suck on candy to aid you to swallow.
- The Valsalva maneuver is definitely helpful during ascent and descent. You need to blow gently, as if blowing your nose, and pinch your nostrils while you keep the mouth closed. Repeat several times, this will help you to balance the pressure between the airplane cabin and the ears.
- Do not sleep during ascents and descents. If you are awake, you can do the essential self-care techniques when you feel discomfort and pain in the ears.
- Avoid flying in case you have a cold, sinusitis, nasal congestion or an ear infection.
- Use an over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray for sinusitis and nose congestion. Use the nasal decongestant half an hour to one hour before takeoff and landing. Do not overuse the nasal decongestant, since nasal decongestants taken for 3 to 4 days increase congestion.
- You could talk to your health care provider and take oral decongestant pills; however take them very carefully. Oral decongestants should also be taken half an hour to one hour before the flight. If you have a heart disorder, a heart rhythm disorder or hypertension, do not take an oral decongestant unless your health care provider approves of it.
- In case you suffer from allergies, you should take your medication 1 hour before the flight. Nonetheless, do confer with your physician.
- Use filtered earplugs which gradually balance the pressure of the environment against the eardrum.
- If you are greatly susceptible to severe airplane ear and suffer from excessive pain, fullness and reduced hearing; and you need to fly very often, your health care provider may suggest surgically placing tubes in the eardrums to facilitate fluid drainage, ventilate the middle ear, and level the pressure between the middle and outer ear.