Why travelling by plane can cause ear problems?

Last update on Jun, 18, 2021

Why do ears pop on a plane?

Air transport occurs at high altitude, usually around 10,000 meters. At higher altitudes, the air pressure decreases, which can cause ear problems. Inside the middle ear, the pressure is usually equal to the one of the outer ear. When the cabin pressure drops suddenly, a pressure difference is created between the middle ear and the outer ear. This blocks the Eustachian tube and can cause the sensation of plugged ear, an auditory discomfort called barotrauma. When this happens, the passenger may notice a strong pressure inside the ear and sometimes pain.

How to avoid ear pressure problems during flights?

The risk can be reduced with actions that facilitate the opening of the Eustachian tube, such as:

  • Yawning, chewing, swallowing some food or drinking small amounts of liquids during takeoff and landing to mobilize the muscles of chewing and swallowing.
  • Perform the Valsalva maneuver: take air and blow gently with your mouth and nose closed.
  • Use ear protection or ear plugs during the flight.

What to do if you have an earache while flying?

If you experience earache while flying or an earache after the flight, the cause is usually an otitis media . Often children suffer from it after flying. Especially if there was still water in the ear from the last pool visit. Then there is the air conditioning and there is the cold after flying. Children and adults with a tendency to develop otitis media should only wear earplugs during take-off and landing. Ventilation is very important for ears that are prone to inflammation. If possible, you should not dive again immediately before departure. Taking a nasal spray as a preventive measure definitely makes sense.
By the way: if the ear “closes” during the flight and hearing remains muffled hours after arrival, this sometimes feels like a sudden hearing loss, but it is very uncommon . As a rule, the ears open again on their own at the latest on the following day. If you want to actively help, you can use a decongestant nasal spray.

What to do if plugged ears sensation persists

If the sensation of plugged ears persists for hours after the flight, consult a doctor or an ENT specialist. The information contained in this post is purely informative, not substituting, in any case, the advice of your doctor.

Can you fly with an ear infection?

Flying with an ear infectionis not ideal, but who wants to postpone or even cancel their vacation because of it? If you or your child have to fly with an earache, earplugs for flying for take-off and landing, nasal spray and warm clothing such as hats, scarfs, sweaters and warm socks are the ideal flight equipment.

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