Ear Pain After Traveling on an Airplane
By Otolaryngology Plastic Surgery Associates
August 26, 2021
Category: ENT Conditions
Ear PainWhile getting to hop aboard an airplane can be exciting, especially if you are traveling somewhere fun and new, we also know that it’s all fun and games until someone develops ear pain. If you or your child is prone to airplane ear (also known as ear barotrauma), then you may be interested in turning to an ENT doctor for answers. Discover the reason for airplane ear, what makes someone prone to this problem, and ways to prevent it from happening.

What are the symptoms of airplane ear?

Anyone who has ever experienced this knows the symptoms. Most people experience mild to moderate ear pain, fullness, or muffled hearing while flying. Sometimes these symptoms can become severe, resulting in intense ear pressure, vertigo, ringing in the ears, and even significant (but temporary) hearing loss.

Why does airplane ear happen?

Since you are flying at high altitudes in an airplane, the pressure of the air versus the pressure of the middle ear don’t align, which impacts how the eardrum vibrates. Since air pressure changes rather quickly, particularly during takeoff and landing, this is often when people experience bouts of airplane ear. Some people may find that yawning helps open the eustachian tubes to equalize pressure in the ear to alleviate symptoms.

Of course, flying in an airplane isn’t the only time that you may experience this problem. If you are in the mountains, ride an elevator or go scuba diving, you may also notice that your ears get plugged up. This is usually a minor occurrence of ear barotrauma.

Some people may be more prone to airplane ear than others. Newborns and toddlers are at risk because they have smaller eustachian tubes. Other risk factors include ear or sinus infections, allergies, or having a cold.

Are there ways to improve airplane ear?

Fortunately, there are certain techniques and tricks to make dealing with airplane ear a little less painful. Most people have tried the Valsalva maneuver, in which you pinch your nose and keep your mouth closed and then gently blow through the nose. You may also chew gum or suck on a piece of candy. If you believe that your airplane ear is caused by allergies or sinus infections, try taking a decongestant or using a nasal spray before takeoff and landing.

If you find yourself dealing with ear pain or changes in hearing that last for days after flying, it’s important that you call your ENT doctor right away. Even the most minor symptoms may require medical attention, so don’t ignore them.

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