Why does my Ear Pain during Flight

Ear pain is the most common medical complaint of airplane travelers and sometimes may result in hearing loss. Make air travel comfortable by learning how to equalize the pressure in the ears instead of suffering from an uncomfortable feeling or fullness or pressure.

The air in the middle ear is constantly reabsorbed by its lining and re-supplied through the eustachian tube (tube that connects the back of the nose with the middle ear). In this manner, air pressure on both sides of the eardrum stays about equal. If and when, the air pressure is not equal the ear feels blocked and there is ear pain.

The eustachian tube can be blocked or obstructed for a variety of reasons. When that occurs the middle ear pressure cannot be equalized. The air already there is absorbed and a vacuum occurs sucking the eardrum inwards and stretching it. Fluid then sweeps into the area from the lining membranes in an attempt to overcome the vacuum.

How can air travel cause hearing problems?

Air travel is sometimes associated with rapid changes in air pressure. To maintain comfort, the eustachian tube must open frequently and wide enough to equalize the changes in pressure. This is especially true when the airplane is landing, going from low atmospheric pressure down to earth where the air pressure is higher.

How to unblock the ears?

Swallowing activates the muscles that open the eustachian tube. Swallowing occurs more often when chewing gum or when sucking on hard candies. These are good air travel practices, especially just before take-off and during descent. Yawning is even better. Avoid sleeping during descent because swallowing may not occur often enough to keep up with the pressure changes.

Even after landing, continue the pressure equalizing techniques and if pain persists or the ears fail to open, consult an ENT specialist.

How to help babies unblock their ears?

Babies cannot intentionally pop their ears, but popping may occur if they are sucking on a bottle or pacifier. Feed the baby during the flight and do not allow him/her to sleep during descent. Children are especially vulnerable to blockages because their eustachian tubes are narrower than adults.

Tips to prevent discomfort during air travel

  1. Postpone an airplane trip if a cold, sinus infection or an allergy attack is present.
  2. You can use a nasal decongestant spray approximately an hour before descent to help the ears pop more easily.
  3. Avoid sleeping during descent
  4. Chew gum or suck on hard candy just before take off and during descent.

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