Air travel can be painful to the ears because of changes in air pressure. As the aeroplane ascends and descends, the air pressure in the cabin changes, forcing the middle ear to equalise the pressure. Any blockage in the eustachian tube can affect the ear's ability to equalise the pressure, causing pain, vertigo and, in extreme cases, even rupture of the eardrum. Simple precautions can deal with the problem and protect your ears.
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Things you need
- Paediatric-strength nasal spray
- Ear plugs
- Hard candy
Avoid flying if at all possible if you have a respiratory infection, particularly an ear or sinus infection, the day before a flight. See if it's possible to change your tickets and plans.
Begin taking decongestants the day before the flight. Decongestants such as Sudafed will start to shrink the inflamed tissues inside your sinuses and eustachian tubes, minimising the possibility of a painful blockage.
Spray your sinuses with a children's strength nasal spray before boarding the aeroplane. This will open the eustachian tube for take-off. If you are unable to use nasal spray comfortably, try nose drops.
Chew gum as the plane takes off. The constant motion of your jaw may clear any blockage in your sinuses or eustachian tube, allowing your middle ear to equalise the air pressure as the plane ascends. If you don't like chewing gum, sucking on a hard candy will have much the same effect of keeping the eustachian tube open.
Swallow or yawn frequently during the flight, especially during take-off and landing. These actions change the air pressure inside your respiratory system and help your ears to "pop."
Wear ear plugs during the flight. Ear plugs slow the rate at which air flows into your outer ear, thus allowing your middle ear time to deal with the air pressure changes of flight. Ear Planes are a type of ear plug that were developed for Air Force pilots, and are now sold to the public for the purpose of dealing with air pressure changes on aeroplanes.
Perform the Valsalva manoeuvre when you feel the pressure building in your ears. To perform the Valsalva manoeuvre, pinch your nostrils shut with your fingers. While keeping your mouth shut, exhale gently through your closed nostrils. You should feel a slight "pop" in your ears, which is the sign of the air pressure equalising.
As your plane approaches its destination, use the paediatric nasal spray again three times, five minutes apart. Sit upright as the plane descends to help the air pressure equalise.
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