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How to Prevent Pain in the Ear When Flying

Do This to Prevent Painful Ears on the Plane

Flying can be a real pain in the neck, but for some it can also cause a huge pain in the ear. We're talking about excruciating, stabbing pain that can lead to ringing or fuzzy hearing for hours after you've landed. This intense pain could even cause worse symptoms that include bleeding or temporary hearing loss.

Appropriately named airplane ear, this condition is pretty common and is caused by rapid changes in altitude or air pressure, which causes an unequal pressure between your middle ear and the air outside your ear. This makes your eardrum bulge outward or retract inward, which hurts, and can even cause a ruptured eardrum (which causes discharge that's sometimes bloody). You've probably also experienced it when swimming in deep water or driving through the mountains.

Swallowing or yawning should help ease your discomfort because the Eustachian tube, which connects your middle ear to the back of your nose, opens and allows air to flow into or out of your middle ear, equalizing the pressure. If you're congested though because of a cold or allergies, this tube can be blocked, causing pain, muffled sound, and temporary hearing loss.

To prevent this from happening on future flights, try taking an over-the-counter decongestant such as Sudafed about 30 to 60 minutes before your flight. This will help to dry up mucus from your nose and sinuses. While you're flying, chew gum or suck on a cough drop. This will encourage frequent swallowing, which helps to activate the muscles that open your Eustachian tubes. Also, don't sleep when the plane is taking off or landing, so you can be sure you're swallowing often.

Image Source: Thinkstock
Join The Conversation
nykundi nykundi 8 years
I have chronic sinus issues so I've been dealing with this for years. I have 2 fool-proof solutions: #1: before you get on the plane, put 2 sprays of Afrin or other nasal decongestant in each nostril. then you dont have the hyper side effects of sudafed. #2: when you feel the plane start to descend (ears popping), hold your nose and blow air into the closed nostrils. Not hard enough for anything to come out (ew) but pretty hard. This clears my ears like nothing else, and I do it periodically throught the descent.
bellaressa bellaressa 8 years
This happens to me every flight. I bought ear plugs and I chew gum. I remember once it hurt so bad, I cried for a good 25 mins.
Spectra Spectra 8 years
I've never heard of Earplanes, but they sound really great. My husband gets a lot of pressure in his ears when he flies, but chewing gum seems to at least help it a little. I've always just chewed gum during the takeoff and landing and that seems to work fine for me.
Sun_Sun Sun_Sun 8 years
this only happened to me once, and i think it was directly related to my bad cold...but wow i really thought my head will explode!!!
norae209 norae209 8 years
I'd add another vote for Earplanes -- they dramatically improved the quality of my life. Every time I'd fly, I'd feel like my head was going to explode (even with the strategies mentioned in the post). No matter how much I swallow or yawn, my ears won't un-pop. With Earplanes in, I either get no popping or a simple swallow will do the trick. I tend to reuse them more than is recommended (and just clean them), because they are expensive, but so worth it.
bigestivediscuit bigestivediscuit 8 years
My brother gets this REALLY badly as he had ear tubes as a child and it has affected him since. Chewing gum, yawning or swallowing does not help him. I also get this if I've got a cold so the Sudafed is the best relief, however they now make some "special" (and yes, overpriced) earplugs called "Earplanes" (they also are made by other brands) that you put on before take off and landing - my brother used them recently on a 15 hour flight to Hong Kong and testified they helped a lot, but didn't take all the pain away. So it might be worth getting some of those.
princessgouveia princessgouveia 8 years
I have the same problem. I use the decongestant and I also use earplanes. There is an offbrand as well. Airports usually have them for around $9, drugstores usually have them for about $5. If you ask for earplanes at the drug store someone should be able to help, they are usually around the earplug/first aid section. Its sort of like earplugs but plastic and weirder looking. They can get uncomfortable during long flights but to not have serious pain for 2 days it's worth it.
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