Why Do People Complain of Ear Pain In Flight or Airplane Ear? How Can One Cope With It!

Ear Pain in Flight or Airplane Ear

Ear pain in flight is also known as airplane ear. Traveling in airplane has become very common nowadays, but this may create problems for some passengers as they develop ear pain during the landing phase. The more the plane descends toward the land the more the ear pain starts aggravating for such people. This ear pain is basically a result of the unequal pressures between the air present outside the ear and the air present in the middle ear while in a descending airplane. Individuals susceptible to this type of problem may need decongestants or antihistamines on hand to overcome this while traveling in airplane.

Basically, the small gap in the middle ear present at the backside of the eardrum is filled with air. This area is attached to the backside of the nose through a very small channel known as Eustachian tube. The pressure of air on both the sides of the eardrum should be equal. As the plane starts descending and coming closer to the ground, the air pressure becomes higher, but the air pressure behind the eardrum remains the same. This difference in pressure causes the eardrum to be pushed inwards leading to pain in the ear. The only thing that can relieve this pain is increase in the pressure behind the eardrum or the middle ear such that it equates to the pressure outside the ear. Eustachian tube plays a very important role in this.

Ear consists of a tiny channel known as Eustachian tube that acts as a connection between the middle ear and the backside of the nose. This tube opens only when needed such as at the time of yawing, swallowing and chewing. In individuals with normal function of the Eustachian tube, the air pressure gets equalized when they swallow normally and chew quickly. However, individuals for whom the Eustachian tube does not open easily or function properly are the ones who suffer with problems with equalization of the air pressure. Eustachian tube problems can be due to extremely narrow Eustachian tube or certain medical conditions that result in blockage of Eustachian tube due to which air fails to pass through the middle ear. Blocking of Eustachian tube often occurs due to inflammation and mucus resulting from problems like throat infection, hay fever, cold and any condition that results in the formation of extra mucus at the back of the nose.

Prevention for Ear Pain in Flight or Airplane Ear

Basically person suffering with respiratory infection, ear infection, cold or any such condition should try to avoid traveling in airplanes. However, canceling the trips would not be possible for several people. In such a case the following preventive measures may help in keeping the airplane ear away.

  • Person having a history of ear problems must seek medical advice before taking a flight.
  • Chewing a gum or sucking on something at the time of takeoff helps in keeping the Eustachian tube open. As a matter of fact, some airlines offer sweets to suck and eat when the plane is descending.
  • One more way of keeping the Eustachian tube open is yawning.
  • Eustachian tubes for infants or small children can be kept open by feeding them on fluids or sweets like milk, chocolate, etc., during landing phase.
  • Care should be taken to keep the child awake at the time of landing so that they do not stop swallowing.
  • Maintaining proper hydration is important during long flights. This can be done by plenty of fluid intakes and avoidance of caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
  • Practicing Valsalva maneuver during flights is also helpful in keeping the Eustachian tube open.
  • Taking antihistamine tablets as directed by the physician the day before and on the day of flight helps in limiting the formation of mucus.
  • Using ear plugs to regulate air pressure.

Treatment for Ear Pain in Flight or Airplane Ear

Treatment for airplane ear is done only when preventive measures fail to work satisfactorily. Generally severe ear pain gets relieved quickly on taking painkillers like paracetamol. Accumulation of fluid followed by the flight may also occur sometimes in the middle ear for some days. This may result in reducing the hearing ability for a moment. In case the pain and dulled hearing persist for more days, it is better to seek medical advice.

It is necessary to treat exact cause for constriction or blocking of the Eustachian tube. Problems such as cold, allergies, respiratory infections or nose blocks must be treated completely.

alert  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Consult your medical care provider for medical advice, treatment and followup.

Yoga Information Center

Find Pain Physician