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 Ear Problems and Air Travel


Ear Problems and Air Travel

Michael Crawford, M.D.

We hear a lot of complaints from travelers on airplanes because of the ear problems.

Normally when you’re on the ground, your ear is equal-pressured inside and outside. When you go up in the air that pressure decreases and so the air in your ear comes out. It hurts when it can’t get back in when you’re coming down for a landing.

How do I unblock my ears?

Most of the time, naturally, all you have to do is swallow. Because of the pulley and muscle activity of the swallowing mechanism, you actually squirt air into the ear and replace that which is gone.

If swallowing doesn’t work hold your nose and swallow and then start to blow into the ears as best as possible. It’s probably more of a sustained pressure that is better. So, take a breath in and count to maybe five or ten as you’re trying to pop rather than trying to do a quick one or two second blow.

How do I help my children unblock their ears?

You try to facilitate that swallowing mechanism. So, giving a bottle to young children to make them swallow or sometimes a binky will be helpful as they suck on that and swallow. Then you can induce the Eustachian tube to work.

This is an instance where it is a good idea to give your children some gum or some candy to suck on during their descent. That way they can adjust their ears to this change.

Is the use of decongestants and nose sprays recommended?

These medicines do have some side effects and even though they are available over-the-counter without a prescription, it really is wise to consult your doctor to make sure that you’re not going experience those side effects and have those difficulties.

Ear problems can arise when traveling on airplanes. Dr. Michael Crawford​, Board Certified Otolaryngologist at Boys Town Ear, Nose & Throat Institute, explains why people have problems with their ears when traveling and gives tips on how to handle the ear discomfort for both children and adults. ​​