Ear Problems and Air Travel

 

Michael Crawford, M.D.
Boys Town Ear, Nose & Throat Institute

Airplanes are one of the more popular ways to travel when going on vacation, but the consequence to faster travel time can be a pain in the ear. When the plane rises in elevation, air pressure decreases, causing your ears to clog.

Normally when you’re on the ground, your ear has equal-pressure inside and out. Rising further in the air causes pressure to decrease and the air in your ear to come out. It can hurt when the plane comes down for a landing and the air cannot go back into your ear.

Unblock Your Ears

To unblock clogged ears, usually all you have to do is swallow. The muscle used when swallowing allows air to squirt into the ear, replacing that which is gone.

If swallowing doesn’t work, hold your nose and try blowing the air out of your ears. A sustained pressure is best for unblocking clogged ears. Take a breath and count to five or ten rather than trying to do a quick one or two second blow.

Help Your Children Unblock Their Ears

To help children unblock their ears, try to facilitate that swallowing mechanism:

  • Give young infants and babies a bottle or a pacifier so that they swallow.
  • Give older children some candy or gum, that way they can adjust their ears to the change.
  • When inflating the ears, do not use excessive force. Only use pressure created by the cheek and throat muscles through swallowing.
  • Consult your doctor about using nose sprays and decongestants.

These medicines do have some side effects. Even though they are available over-the-counter without a prescription, it is wise to consult your doctor about potential risks related to your child’s health. If your child travels by airplane, there is a risk of having ear problems. If these problems persist after your trip is over, contact your child’s physician.