Save Your Ears from Pain When Flying

Individuals with an Eustachian tube problem may experience difficulty equalizing middle ear pressure when flying. When an aircraft ascends, the atmospheric pressure decreases, resulting in a relative increase in the middle ear air pressure. When the aircraft descends, just the opposite occurs – atmospheric pressure increases in the cabin of the aircraft and there is a relative decrease in the middle ear pressure. Either situation may result in discomfort in the ear because of abnormal middle ear pressure compared to the cabin pressure. Usually, this discomfort is experienced upon descent of the aircraft.

To avoid middle ear problems associated with flying you should not fly if you have an acute upper respiratory problem such as a common cold, allergy attack or sinus infection. Should you have such a problem and must fly, or should have a chronic Eustachian tube problem, consult with your Physician and he or she may recommend one or more of the following:

  1. Sudafed tablets and a plastic squeeze bottle of 1/4 percent NeoSynephrine or Afrin nasal spray.

  2. Should your ears “plug up” upon ascent, hold your nose and swallow while attempting to force air up to the back of the throat. This will help suck excess air pressure out of the middle ear.

  3. Chew gum to stimulate swallowing. Should your ear “plug up” despite this, hold your nose and blow gently toward the back of the throat while swallowing. This will blow air up the Eustachian tube into the middle ear (Valsalva Maneuver).