why does my ear hurt after flying

What Is Airplane Ears? Even though todayБs aircraft are pressurized so that changes in air pressure are minimized, many air travelers are still afflicted with airplane ears (barotitis media), which causes partial hearing loss, ear pain, and a stuffed-up feeling in the ears. These symptoms typically begin while a plane is descending and can persist after it lands. Symptoms may range in intensity from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful, but often clear within 20 or 30 minutes after landing. What Causes Airplane Ears? The cause of airplane ears is well understood. The eardrum retracts owing to rapid changes in pressure in the airplane cabin as the plane goes from a high altitude and low atmospheric pressure toward the ground, where the atmospheric pressure is much higher. The eustachian tubeБwhich normally drains secretions from the middle ear into the throatБexchanges air between the ears and nose, but when there is a pressure differential, as there is in a descending plane, lower-pressure air may get trapped in the middle ear. The eustachian tube compensates by allowing a little more air to be pumped into or out of the middle ear, but this is sometimes difficult to do because the differences in air pressure in the ear and plane cabin create a vacuum that pulls the eardrum inward. In the process the eardrum is stretched (which is painful) and is unable to vibrate naturally (which impairs hearing). Airplane ears can also be caused or made worse by a cold or allergy because the swollen nasal membranes can effectively block the opening of the eustachian tubes.


When this swelling occurs, the eustachian tube, which is the size of a pencil lead, cannot open frequently and widely enough to equalize the pressure that starts to build on either side of the eardrumБand the result is pain. Airplane ears may also result from having narrowed eustachian tubes, typically the result of scarring from childhood ear infections. What If You Do Nothing about Airplane Ears? Most people recover quickly once air pressure has been equalized, and there are no long-lasting effects from airplane ears. However, if you travel frequently, you can take self-care measures rather than bear up to the pain and discomfort. Keeping your ears unblocked may require some experimentation with the methods described here. Prepare for descent. Once the Бfasten seatbeltБ sign is turned on and the plane begins its descent, swallow several times. This helps keep the eustachian tube open and equalizes ear pressure. If this doesnБt work, blow your nose gently; this may also help open the eustachian tube. Chew gum. The act of chewing (like swallowing) activates the muscle that opens the eustachian tube. Once opened, a little droplet of air can pass from the nose and throat to the middle ear, thereby relieving pressure. Yawn. This is a more powerful way to activate the muscle that opens your eustachian tube. Try a gentle blowing maneuver. Another method to unblock your ears is to squeeze the nostrils shut with your thumb and forefinger, inhale through your mouth, and then attempt to force the air back into the nose.


Once you feel them Бpop,Б you know your ears have unclogged. This popping sensation is often accompanied by mild pain, but it usually disappears quickly. You may have to repeat this several times during your descent. Take a decongestant. If you suffer pain from airplane ears on a regular basis, an hour before landing spray both nostrils with a decongestant nose spray or else take a decongestant pill (such as Sudafed or a generic containing pseudoephedrine). This will help shrink membranes, open your eustachian tube, and make your ears pop more easily. Consider trying special ear plugs. Small silicone rubber ear plugs marketed under the name EarPlanes have a filter that equalizes the effects of cabin air-pressure changes. These may be especially helpful if a cold or sinus congestion makes it hard to relieve ear discomfort by swallowing air. EarPlanes, which are safe for children, are available in drugstores and airport shops. Avoid alcoholic beverages in flight. Alcohol causes the mucous membranes to become engorged and the eustachian tube to swell. Try to avoid flying while suffering from a cold or allergy. Any ear problems you normally have on descent will be magnified by these respiratory problems, so if itБs possible to postpone your trip, do so. If your ears fail to open or if pain persists several hours after landing, contact your physician. If you fly frequently and often experience pain that lasts long after your flight, consult an ear specialist.


Your doctor will examine your ear. In extreme cases your eardrum may have to be lanced to equalize the pressure.
Megan Davids, an investment analyst from Cape Town, told Health24 about her experience on a recent flight: "I was so caught up in conversation with my friend next to me that my trusty tricks were totally forgotten, and just as the airplane was gaining altitude after taking off, the most excruciating pain started piercing my ears, escalating second by second. And just when it felt like my ears were about to rupture the air pressure in the airplane stabilised. " Rapid change in air pressure explains barotrauma as a condition where there is inflammation of the middle ear, causing severe pain. When the air pressure in the airplane cabin changes rapidly during take-off and landing, it causes painful pressure in your ear. It hurts because your ears cannot adjust quickly enough to the change in air pressure, trapping air and fluid in the middle ear. Under normal circumstances the air pressure in your inner ear and the air pressure outside are equal. However, when external pressure changes very quickly, the inner ear experiences extreme pressure because it cannot adjust at the same speed. Apart from causing severe pain, the air and fluid trapped inside the middle ear can occasionally cause the middle ear to rupture. The reason why you don t get ear pain when ascending a mountain on a hike is because the air pressure changes gradually, giving the inner ear pressure enough time to adjust.


Prevention is better than cure Ear pain caused by air pressure is excruciating, and has been known to make grown men cry. It also doesn t discriminate even first class passengers are reduced to tears. 1. Swallow, chew or yawn When you it stimulates the muscles that open your Eustachian tubes, which can alleviate the pressure in the inner ear. 2. Valsalva manoeuvre According to, the technique known as the valsalva manoeuvre commonly practiced by deep sea divers, will help unblock your ears when pressure starts to build up. Pinch your nose closed, close your mouth and slowly do the same as when you're blowing your nose. Repeat until the pressure equalises. 3. Earplugs Making sure you have earplugs is helpful. suggests you use filtered earplugs as this will help stagger the external air pressure and reduce discomfort. 4. Wake up in time If you ve taken the precautions and had a great take off with no pain, don t wake up too late to prepare for landing. Ask a flight attendant to wake you up in time to prepare your ears for landing. 5. Choose when to travel When planning your trip, consider your health. If you are suffering from a sinus infection, cold or nasal congestion, change your flight dates if you can. These conditions can be exacerbated when flying. 6. Decongestant If you have nasal congestion, take a decongestant 30 minutes before tak-eoff. 7. Allergy medication Take your allergy medication as a precaution one hour before your flight. Read more:

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