by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
If you or your child experience ear pain when flying, here’s some things that can help ease the pain.
First, a bit of background on why flying can cause ear pain in some people. Your middle ear is an air-filled cavity about the size of a pea situated right behind your eardrum. It contains three tiny bones commonly called the hammer, anvil and stirrup. A small tube, called the Eustachian tube, connects your middle ear to the back of your throat. The Eustachian tube is normally closed but opens momentarily every time you yawn or swallow. This equalizes the air pressure between your middle ear and the air around you.
If your Eustachian tube is clogged, when you yawn or swallow air can’t get through to equalize the air pressure in your middle ear. Normally, this isn’t much of a problem, but when you are flying the rapid change in air pressure as your plane climbs or descends can cause pain. When the air pressure in your middle ear is either too high or too low, it either bulges your eardrum out or sucks it in. The result is pain in your ear. Now, knowing this, here are 4 things you can do.
1. If your Eustachian tube is totally blocked due to a heavy cold or sinus congestion or allergies, no air exchange can take place when you yawn or swallow. Therefore, it is wise to refrain from flying at such times. Otherwise you risk blowing out your eardrum or suffering severe ear pain.
2. If your ears are blocked/clogged, try using a decongestant the day before and the day of your flight. If the decongestant allows some air exchange when yawning or swallowing, then you should be OK to fly, but you should still take some precautions. (See the next two tips.)
3. If your Eustachian tube is only partially blocked, swollen or if the opening in your Eustachian tube is very small, when your plane is climbing after take off or descending in preparation to land, the air pressure changes may be too rapid for your Eustachian tubes to accommodate. One solution is to wear EarPlanes.
EarPlanes work by slowly allowing the air pressure in your ear canals to increase/decrease. They do this by using a ceramic filter that lets the air diffuse slowly through the fine pores in the ceramic. This gives your middle ears time to adjust to the changing pressure. Numbers of people find the EarPlanes solve their ear pain problems.
EarPlanes are available from many drugstores for a few dollars, or you can purchase EarPlanes on-line here. They are $8.99 plus shipping per pair.
4. Another cool device is the Ear Ease. It’s been around for 25 years now, but I don’t think many people know about them. You fill the Ear Ease with hot water and hold it against your ear. The heat from the Ear Ease helps the Eustachian tube to open, thus relieving the pressure. When that happens, the pain goes away. The Ear Ease works particularly well if ear pain is caused by higher outside air pressure than what is is the middle ear (i.e. your eardrum is sucked in).
You can learn more about the Ear Ease or order them here. The cost is $22.99 including shipping.
If you often have ear pain when flying, consider making up your “happy ears” flying kit consisting of a decongestant, EarPlanes and Ear Ease. Hopefully, these items will let you fly pain free.