How To Prevent Aeroplane Ear These Holidays
It’s not just the snores from the fellow passengers and the loud conversations from the people sitting right in front of you that can make your flight unbearable. Unfortunately, (and as if to add insult to injury!), many air travelers suffer from a rather painful condition known as aeroplane ear.
What causes aeroplane ear?
The ear pain experienced during flights is the result of a rapid change in air pressure. This change in pressure causes a large difference in pressure between your middle ear and the air around you. Officially, the medical term for this is ‘ear barotrauma’.
What happens to our ears, exactly?
Our ears are made up of three parts; the outer, middle and inner ear. Our eardrum divides the outer and middle ear. It’s the Eustachian tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the mouth. Air moves from our mouths, along this tube and into the ear, constantly working to equalise the pressure in the middle ear with that of the outside.
Because air pressure changes with altitude, and our altitude changes rapidly during takeoff and landing, our bodies often struggle to keep up this balancing act at a fast enough pace. When this happens, a vacuum is created in the middle ear and this pulls the eardrum inward, causing pain.
What are the symptoms / effects?
Pain and muffled hearing are the most common symptoms of aeroplane ear. But symptoms can worsen to include possible ruptured eardrums, bleeding or fluid discharge, and even temporary hearing loss.
How can aeroplane ear be prevented?
The good news is there ARE a number of practical ways we can help ease or prevent aeroplane ear. The next time you’re heading skywards, why not try a few of these:
1) Swallowing or yawning frequently. This increases air flow in and out of the middle ear. This in turn helps to equalise pressure faster and decrease the chance of experiencing pain.
2) Chew gum or suck on a sweet. This will encourage frequent swallowing, which then works the muscles that open the Eustachian tubes. This helps to equalise pressure faster.
3) Don’t sleep during take-off and landing. You can’t remember to swallow when you’re asleep.
4) Perform the Valsalva maneuver during take-off and landing. Pinch your nostrils and blow through your nose very gently while keeping your moth closed. Do this several times. This helps to equalise pressure between your ears and the aeroplane cabin.
5) Use filtered earplugs. These help to gradually equalise the pressure on your eardrums during take-off and landing. By slowing down the pressure change that affects the ear, these buy your ears additional time to adjust to pressure changes. These also offer the added benefit of quieting any potentially unpleasant noise. However, if these are used frequently it’s important to ensure that you are cleaning your ears properly in order to prevent wax build up.
An extreme case: If you do suffer severely from airplane ear and need to fly frequently, it may be worth asking your doctor about inserting tubes into your ears that serve to facilitate fluid drainage and equalise pressure between your outer and middle ear.
Easing aeroplane ear in little ones:
Unfortunately, children also suffer with aeroplane ear from time to time. If you find yourself traveling with a child, why not try a few of these tips and tricks to help alleviate any potential pain.
1) Avoid decongestants. These are not advisable for young children.
2) Speak to a doctor about eardrops. They may recommend eardrops that contain a pain reliever and a numbing agent.
3) Promote swallowing. Giving babies or toddlers something to drink during take-off and landing will encourage them to swallow. A pacifier will achieve the same thing. With children older than four, drinking through a straw or blowing bubbles through a straw will also ensure they swallow frequently.