Plane Flights and Your Ears: What You Need to Know

Plane Flights and Your Ears: What You Need to Know

Flying can be an exciting way to travel, opening up the world to new experiences and destinations. However, many travellers experience discomfort or even pain in their ears during flights. This common issue, known as ear barotrauma, arises due to changes in air pressure, particularly during take-off and landing. In this blog post, we will explore why flying affects your ears, how to alleviate discomfort, and steps you can take to protect your ears during air travel.

Why Flying Affects Your Ears
The primary reason for ear discomfort during flights is the rapid change in air pressure. The middle ear, located behind the eardrum, is connected to the back of the throat by the Eustachian tube. This tube helps equalize pressure between the middle ear and the external environment. When a plane ascends or descends, the external air pressure changes more rapidly than the pressure in your middle ear, causing the Eustachian tube to struggle to equalize it quickly. This imbalance can lead to a feeling of fullness, popping, or even pain in the ears.

Common Symptoms of Ear Barotrauma
• Fullness or Pressure: A sensation of fullness or pressure in the ears is the most common symptom.
• Popping or Clicking: Frequent popping or clicking sounds in the ears as they try to equalize the pressure.
• Discomfort or Pain: Ranging from mild discomfort to sharp pain, especially during take-off and landing.
• Reduced Hearing: Temporary hearing loss or muffled hearing.
• Dizziness: In some cases, changes in ear pressure can cause dizziness or a feeling of imbalance.

Tips to Alleviate Ear Discomfort During Flights
1. Swallowing, Yawning, or Chewing Gum: These actions help open the Eustachian tube, allowing air to flow more freely and equalize pressure. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy during take-off and landing can be particularly effective.
2. The Valsalva Manoeuvre: Close your mouth, pinch your nose shut, and gently blow as if you are trying to blow your nose. This can help force air through the Eustachian tube and equalize pressure.
3. The Toynbee Manoeuvre: Swallow while pinching your nose shut. This manoeuvre can also help open the Eustachian tube and balance the pressure in your ears.
4. Use of Earplugs: Specialized earplugs designed for air travel, such as filtered earplugs, can help regulate the pressure changes and reduce discomfort.
5. Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water keeps your mucous membranes moist, which can help your Eustachian tubes function more effectively. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they can contribute to dehydration.
6. Avoid Sleeping During Take-off and Landing: When you are awake, you are more likely to swallow or yawn, which helps equalize pressure. Try to stay alert during these phases of the flight to manage ear discomfort better.
7. Use Nasal Sprays or Decongestants: If you have a cold, allergies, or sinus congestion, using a nasal spray or decongestant before your flight can help keep your Eustachian tubes open. However, consult with a healthcare professional before using these medications, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.

Special Considerations for Infants and Young Children
Infants and young children are more susceptible to ear pain during flights because their Eustachian tubes are smaller and less efficient. To help them, encourage frequent swallowing by giving them a bottle, pacifier, or something to drink during take-off and landing. Keeping them calm and distracted with toys or activities can also help manage their discomfort.
When to Seek Medical Attention
While ear discomfort during flights is usually temporary, if you experience severe pain, prolonged hearing loss, or persistent symptoms after your flight, it is essential to seek medical attention. These could be signs of a more serious issue, such as a ruptured eardrum or an ear infection, which require professional treatment.

Understanding why flying affects your ears and knowing how to alleviate discomfort can make your travel experience more pleasant. By following these tips and taking proactive measures, you can protect your ears and ensure a smoother journey. Remember, if you have any concerns about your ear health or experience severe symptoms, consult with a healthcare professional. Safe travels and happy flying!