The pain, pressure, popping and clogging that accompanies flying is not enjoyable for anyone. Approximately one-third of all people who fly suffer from ear problems of one sort or another. The problem of painful ears comes about as a result of changes that take place in air pressure. This number increases for those who suffer from a cold, a sinus infection, an ear infection or seasonal allergies. Generally speaking, ear discomfort becomes worse as the plane begins its descent and sometimes the pain can even become more severe once the plane touches down although usually landings equal relief.
Most commercial airplanes are pressurized in such a way that they are able to minimize the negative effects that passengers and staff will suffer due to changing altitudes at 39,000 feet, however the cabin of the airplane itself will only be able to replicate this particular atmosphere when it reaches 7,000 feet. This explains while many people find that their ears suffer both when it comes to takeoffs and landings, although landings tend to be more extreme.
What brings about the pain when flying?
There is a small space located behind the eardrum and most of the time this space is filled up with air. A tiny channel known as the Eustachian tube connects this area to the back part of the nose. The Eustachian tube helps to keep the air pressure on both sides of the air balanced out equally. As an airplane begins its descent the air pressure becomes greater the closer the plane gets to the ground and this causes pressure in the eardrum. In order to remedy this situation, the middle ear needs to increase the pressure it contains to match the rate of the air pressure that is rapidly changing in the plane. If there is any congestion or blockage in the Eustachian tube whatsoever that is capable of preventing the flow of air, the eardrum then becomes more and more tense and stressed due to the level of outside pressure that is pushing its way into the eardrum. In this way the eardrum needs to stretch in order to cope with the unequal level of pressure. This causes a great deal of pain to the individual.
Pain during flying can occur for a number of different reasons. When a person is suffering from a head cold and has swollen membranes in the ear this can cause the Eustachian tube to become blocked and therefore bring about pain due to altitude changes. Any type of ear infections or throat infections can cause painful ears while flying, as can seasonal allergies such as hay fever, etc.
Any condition that causes mucus to develop in excess in the tubes of the ears can bring about a problem when flying. In the most severe of cases, the middle ear can fill up with fluid during or immediately after a flight, which can then cause an ear infection to develop. Sometimes the eardrum can even burst if the ear is inflamed or damaged enough due to congestion or blockage because of air travel. Some people have Eustachian tubes that are very narrow and therefore can easily become blocked with mucus whereas other people might have Eustachian tubes that do not drain as well as they are supposed to. Women generally have shorter Eustachian tubes then men and for that reason often suffer worse when they fly.
How to prevent pain in the ears while flying
It is recommended that those individuals who are suffering from any kind of respiratory problem such as colds, ear infections, throat infections and so on do not indulge in air travel until they are feeling better. There are cases of course when it is impossible to cancel or delay travel plans until your health is better. If you have blockage in your ears or are suffering from a build up of mucus or even if you are a person who simply experiences ear pain when flying read on for some tips of how to alleviate this problem so your plane trip will be a more pleasant one.
Try the valsalvas manoeuvre
The valsalvas manoeuvre goes like this- pinch your nose and then blow hard against your nose, not your mouth, but not so hard that you injure your nose. This action forces air both up and into the Eustachian tube and makes it possible for the pressure behind the eardrum to become equalized. When you do this you should feel a popping sensation in your ear. This means that the manoeuvre has worked properly. You should put this action into play as soon as you sense that the airplane is beginning to descend and you feel that the air pressure is changing. Repeat the action a number of times (every few seconds for optimum effectiveness) until you are assured that the plane has touched down on the ground.
Reach for antihistamines
Antihistamines in the form of anti-histamine tablets can be purchased at most drugstores and they are an excellent way to help prevent ear pain during air travel. Take an antihistamine at a full dose and make sure you take it both the day preceding your travel as well as the day that you plan to travel on. Antihistamines should help to limit how much mucus is produced in your head.
Decongestants are a good idea
Use a decongestant nasal spray approximately one hour before your plane is expected to begin its descent. Then spray the decongestant again five minutes after that and continue to spray every 20 minutes until the plane is on the ground. An excellent decongestant nasal spray to buy is one that contains the ingredient Xylometazolene that can be found at most pharmacies. Menthol sweets (such as cough drops) also act as decongestants and can serve to effectively open up the tubes of the ears and to also decrease the quantity of mucus that develops. Decongestants have a way of shrinking tissue that has become swollen as well as reducing the amount of secretions that are taking place.
Swallowing and yawning
Both swallowing and yawning regularly during takeoffs and landings can help to equalize pressure on either side of your Eustachian tube and this goes a long way in alleviating sinus and ear pain and discomfort.
Chewing gum is also another way to keep the passages in your head open because the chewing action works in very much the same way that swallowing and yawning often does. Some people also say that sucking on a hard candy has much the same effect as chewing gum as far as equalizing air pressure.
Some travellers sear by earplugs as a way to decrease ear discomfort during flights. Earplugs help to restrict the flow of air and therefore make it possible for the inner ear to have more time to adjust to the changes in air pressure that are taking place inside the plane. For the best results possible, always put in your earplugs before the airplane takes off (not during take off) in order to give your ears an opportunity to adjust to the presence of them. Leave the earplugs in until you are assured that the airplane has completely reached cruising altitude. As a general rule, give yourself 10 to 15 minutes after the seatbelt sign goes off before you remove the earplugs as your ears need to adjust to the earplugs coming out just as they needed to adjust to them going in.