Does your ear get blocked when flying ?

In recent times Air travel has become a common travelling mode. An otherwise smooth journey can become distressing when we experience unpleasant sensation in the ears. During take-off and landing of the airplane, you may feel a slight ear block/pain, muffled hearing. In worst case scenarios it can lead to excruciating ear pain & hearing loss.

What is Airplane Ear?

Blocked ear, pain in the ear, popping ear during air travel is the most widely recognized medical problem faced by flyers. Airplane ear, also known as Barotitis media or Aerotitis media, is the condition where there happens harm to the ear because of trouble in adjustment of the air pressure between middle ear and the surroundings.

 

Airplane ear occurs when the air pressure in the middle ear and the air pressure in the environment don’t match, preventing your eardrum (tympanic membrane) from vibrating normally. A narrow passage called the eustachian tube connects the middle ear and the nose & it helps in regulating air pressure.

When an airplane ascends or descends, the air pressure changes rapidly. The eustachian tube often can’t react fast enough, which causes the symptoms of airplane ear. Swallowing or yawning opens the eustachian tube and allows the middle ear to get more air, equalizing the air pressure.

Simple tips to prevent airplane ear during flights:

  1. Try not to doze off during flying, particularly during take-off or landing.
  2. Avoid flying if you are having a severe cold. If you need to, use a Nasal decongestant spray 30 minutes before take-off and landing.
  3. Try chewing gum or sucking on hard candy. This will stimulate frequent swallowing which helps equalize air pressure.
  4. In children, a bottle or pacifier is recommended to increase swallowing, especially upon descent. Older children can suck on a lollipop, drink through a straw or blow bubbles through a straw to relieve ear pain. 
  5. You can try to unclog your ears by simply closing your mouth and pinching your nose while breathing out as if blowing up a balloon. This exercise helps to maintain the air pressure in the middle ear. You can likewise close your nose and mouth and try swallowing. Try not to attempt to do this if you feel any pain in ear.

Dr. Ajay Doiphode is a Consultant ENT surgeon with more than 20 years of experience. He has graduated from the prestigious KEM Hospital & G.S. Medical College, Mumbai.

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