How To Reduce Ear Pressure When Flying

Here’s a guest article by Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for hearing aid vendor Hearing Direct and maintains a blog with useful information on hearing.

How To Reduce Ear Pressure When Flying

In 2010 more than two billion people chose to fly either for business or pleasure. Many of those have experienced the sensation of their ears ‘popping’ on takeoff or landing. For some people this can be quite uncomfortable or even painful.

Before we discuss the various means to help ease this sensation, let’s look at the reason for this happening.

What Causes Air Pressure changes In The Ear:

The middle ear, which is mostly an air-filled cavity, is affected by changes in the surrounding air pressure. Ordinarily, the eustachian tube, a passageway that leads from the middle ear to the back of the throat equalises the air pressure in the middle ear to the outside air pressure by opening and letting air reach the middle ear. ). If the pressure isn’t equalised, the higher air pressure pushes on one side of the eardrum and causes pressure. This can be from a decrease in air pressure (when an aircraft is climbing) or by increase in air pressure (when going below sea level, diving and when an aircraft is descending. When our ears “pop” while yawning or swallowing, the eustachian tubes are adjusting the air pressure in the middle ears.

In adults – For most people the sensation is a little uncomfortable, which in some cases may lead to slight pain. Normally, the pressure build up will last for only a short while until the eustachian tubes let the air pressure equalize on both sides of the eardrums.

In children – While adults are usually able to withstand this strange sensation caused by changes in middle ear air pressure, this may be more uncomfortable or even painful for young children. It is important to explain to younger travellers with you that the sensation is temporary and will not cause any long term damage.

How To Reduce Ear Pressure When Flying:

Suggestions to help overcome this are to chew on sweets or chewing gum or yawn while the plane is ascending and descending. There are also ear shaped products which can be worn when flying such as Earplanes which use filters to help regulate air pressure. Recommended means to reduce air pressure amongst adults and children.

For Adults – Earplanes are especially useful for adults as they regulate air pressure and reduce noise within the ear canal for a more comfortable journey. Children on the other hand may find a foreign object inside their ear uncomfortable. Adult may also take a decongestant tablet or syrup before the flight which can help reduce ear pain. Lastly, another effective method is blowing up a special balloon which is attached to a small tube. The thin tube fits into one nostril. You then blow up the balloon through that nostril, keeping the other nostril closed with a finger. This method must be prescribed by a doctor and suitable for adults only.

For Children – Chew on sweets or chewing gum or yawn is helpful for both adults and children. However, if the air pressure changes too quickly and swallowing is not done fast enough, this method may prove less effective. To give this method the best possible chances to work, make sure the child is wide wake during take off and landing.

This old blog entry has more advice for flying with kids.

Note: If you are suffering from some kind of upper respiratory tract infection your eustachian tubes may be blocked so your doctor may caution against flying in some cases.

Filed Under: Travel safety

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