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Ear Pain on Planes: What it Is, Why it Happens, and How to Avoid it

Your plane is taking off and you’re excited to get going on your vacation when suddenly you can hardly hear the music coming through your headphones and the familiar ache of airplane ear strikes again. Ouch, so…

What is Airplane Ear?

Barotrauma, barotitis media, aerotitis media – whatever you call it, most of us have suffered through airplane ear at one point or another. It’s the pain, pressure, or just general stuffiness you feel when the plane starts ascending at the beginning of the flight and descending at the end of the flight. While airplane ear might be an inevitable consequence of air travel, it doesn’t have to derail your plans.

Why Does it Happen?

Changing altitude causes a shift in the air pressure in the cabin, making your ears have to work quickly to equalize the pressure outside your body with the pressure inside your body. When your ears can’t adapt quickly enough, you may experience pain, discomfort, the feeling of pressure or fullness, and even slight hearing loss. Airplane ear can be especially painful for people traveling with a cold or sinus infection, so if it’s at all possible, postpone your trip until you’ve recovered and spare yourself some discomfort.

How Do You Make it Stop?

Avoid sleeping during takeoff and landing. You’ll need to be awake in order to help your ears with these remedies:

  • Yawn and swallow – sometimes chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can help you swallow more frequently
  • Use the Valsalva Maneuver – pinch your nose and very gently blow while keeping your mouth closed
  • Try the Toynbee Maneuver – pinch your nose and take small sips of water
  • Buy filtered ear plugs – sold at most drug stores as well as the convenient shops in the terminal

How Do You Help Kids with Airplane Ear?

Help your child drink some water or blow bubbles through a straw to help relieve symptoms. Your child’s doctor might also be able to prescribe or recommend eardrops to help numb the pain.

What if You’re Still Feeling the Effects after Landing?

Despite our best efforts, airplane ear can make us miserable even after the flight is over. If you’re still feeling the pain and fullness of airplane ear, try these remedies:

  • Take a warm shower for at least 10 minutes
  • Steam some water and breath it in through your nose
  • Make a warm compress and press it against your ears

If for any reason you experience symptoms for more than a day, speak to your doctor.

Now that you’re armed with these helpful tips, it’s time to book your next adventure. Don’t forget to FlyDayton, where getting to and through is as painless as it gets!